British Columbia

Police, firefighters remove people in Maple Ridge homeless camp

Firefighters and police officers in Maple Ridge removed people living at a homeless camp Saturday after the city applied to the provincial fire commissioner for an evacuation order following three fires on the site within the last 48 hours.

Site has had 3 fires in past 48 hours, evacuation comes after application for order by city

Dwayne Martin says he's lived at Anita's Place in Maple Ridge for two years and that people at the camp look after each other. He's worried his home and the camp will be bulldozed while it is evacuated. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Firefighters and police officers removed people living at a Maple Ridge homeless camp Saturday after the city applied to the provincial fire commissioner for an evacuation order following three fires on the site within the last 48 hours.

By Saturday evening, officials declared the camp closed with security in place to keep people from returning.

Officials in Maple Ridge removed people from a homeless camp in place in Maple Ridge since 2017 on March 2, 2019. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

Peter Woodrow lived at the camp since it began in 2017. At times, 150 people stayed at the outdoor space in a vacant lot near St. Anne Avenue and 223 Street.

"I've spent the last two years working, building side by side with these people and it's probably been the most impactful episode of my entire life," he said. "I can't believe that they're doing this to us."

Anita's Place resident Pete Woodrow said he preferred living outside at the homeless camp than at a shelter. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

The camp, dubbed Anita's Place, has been the centre of controversy since last weekend when city fire and bylaw officials seized several items — such as propane tanks and patio heaters — which officials said posed fire and safety hazards to residents.

The move angered residents and advocates who said they rely on the items to keep warm.

'Need for housing'

"The backdrop for all of this is the need for housing as the homelessness crisis increases," said Dave Diewert with the Alliance Against Displacement.

People living at the camp, like Dwayne Martin, say they're worried officials will knock down structures, like the one he built out of discarded wood.

"All they do is say is what I can't have," said the 49-year-old. "Well, they can't have my place."

Martin showed the CBC's Micki Cowan his work at the camp over the past nine months before being evicted on March 2, 2019. 1:22

Meanwhile the City of Maple Ridge said in a release that it will provide emergency services for displaced people at a shelter on Lougheed Highway, east of 222 Avenue.

The release did not say how many beds are available there, but it will be operated for 48 hours until the Salvation Army and the province can provide other housing and services.

Safety and housing: B.C. housing minister

The city says it will work with the province to find long-term housing solutions. 

The province's housing minister echoed those statements in a release.

Selina Robinson says safety at the camp is the province's immediate concern, but more supportive housing is needed in Maple Ridge.

Robinson also said that dozens of Anita's Place residents have moved into modular housing the province has built and opened.

Court injunction

The evacuation Saturday follows other legal actions concerning the camp and its residents.

Maple Ridge obtained a court injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court in February to enforce safety regulations at the camp.

The ruling recognized the risks at the camp, including tents pitched close together, dangerous electrical wiring, and the presence of propane and gasoline near open flames.

Firefighters and police officers evacuated the homeless camp known as Anita's Place in Maple Ridge on March, 2, 2019. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Last weekend, officials also shut down a communal heating tent in the camp, leaving some residents out in the cold. 

Since then, three fires have occurred. According to a release from the city, several tents and structures were destroyed, but no injuries have been reported.

The cause of the fires is still under investigation.

The camp was originally established in 2017 to protest the closure of a 40-bed shelter in the city. Camp residents have successfully won two legal battles against the city which tried to evict them.

With files from Megan Batchelor

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