Local homeless people and activists attempt to erect tent city in Coquitlam
About two dozen people marched through the streets of Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam and set up tents Thursday
Homeless people in the Coquitlam area were joined by activists from around the Lower Mainland on Thursday as they staged a march and tried to establish a tent city to protest the treatment of homeless people in the area.
About two dozen people blocked traffic, held signs and banners and chanted, as they made their way from the Port Coquitlam courthouse to a lightly wooded area next to a homeless shelter on Coquitlam's Gordon Avenue.
They got a few honks of support as they marched, but also some angry shouts and glares from people as they passed.
The group set up a handful of tents under the watchful eye of Coquitlam RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers, but in the face of a threat of arrest for trespassing on city land, they agreed to break camp and move along.
"None of us really want to get arrested by the police — we know what that's like — we're just moving venues," said Ross Brydon, who has lived on the streets around Coquitlam and neighbouring Port Coquitlam for about 15 years.
"We told the police that we were willing to take down this site and leave the property, with the concession that we will meet with city and provincial representatives concerning homelessness," said Brydon, who wouldn't say where the group planned to set up their tents next.
Tent cities have been a tool used by homeless activists across the Lower Mainland, notably in Maple Ridge, where city officials have been trying to remove the Anita Place encampment for more than two years,
According to Brydon, local homeless people in the Tri-Cities area — which includes Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody — are regularly bothered by police or bylaw enforcement officers. He said their belongings are often taken, and they're constantly being pushed along rather than given support or helped with proper housing.
He said lately he's been forced to live in the woods of Gates Park, where two bears come to his campsite each day.
About a dozen police officers were on-site on Wednesday, some with bunches of plastic handcuffs strapped to their belts in case they would have to arrest multiple people.
One man was arrested, handcuffed, searched and put in a police car for allegedly obstructing police. He was soon released, after promising to appear in court.
"The housing situation is an issue in the Lower Mainland and other parts of B.C. We do what we can to help when we can, but we have to do our job as well," said Const. John Graham.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said the homeless issue is complicated and challenging, like in any community in Metro Vancouver, but his government is working to address it.
"Our police and our bylaw officers are doing a tremendous amount of work to actually connect homeless people in our communities with services that are provided by other levels of government — that's their first priority," said West.
"We also have laws and rules and those have to be followed as well."
By late afternoon, the activists had left and the police had returned to their regular duties, but Brydon remained defiant that the protest in the Tri-Cities would continue.
"It's not over. It's far from over."
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- A previous version of this story incorrectly said the shelter was located in Port Coquitlam. The shelter is, in fact, in Coquitlam, where protesters attempted to erect tents.Jun 14, 2019 12:21 PM PT