British Columbia

City of Surrey removes tents, belongings from tent city after new shelter opens

City says it has not forced campers to leave the site at King George Blvd, west of 112 Avenue, but says they have priority at the 42-bed Cove Shelter.

City says it has not forced campers to leave the site at King George Blvd, west of 112 Avenue

On Saturday Nov. 23, 2019, crews with the City of Surrey used heavy equipment to remove materials from a 5-acre piece of private property which had been used as a tent city by people for up to 5 years. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Crews with the City of Surrey cleared a 5-acre parcel of private land on the north side of King George Boulevard, west of 112th Avenue, which had formed part of a homeless camp until Saturday.

The Sanctuary Tent City is one of several encampments around Surrey that swelled in numbers after more than 170 people who were living in tents along the so-called 135A Street strip were moved off in June 2018. Many people went to shelters or temporary modular housing, but some found new outdoor places to stay.

Residents at the encampment say the clean-up has forced many of them to move off the part of the encampment that is on private land.

The city says shelter space has been made available at a new facility called Cove Shelter, which offers a safe, heated space with running water and bathroom facilities. It has 42 beds.

On Friday, the officials said 25 of the approximately 30 individuals from the encampment had voluntarily relocated to the Cove Shelter.

"No one was forced to move from the homeless encampment site," said a statement from the city.

Melanie Stewart says she's lived at the Sanctuary Tent City near King George Boulevard and 112A Avenue since the summer of 2018. She recently moved to the side of the camp on public land, but is concerned about how long she will be allowed to remain. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

It also said that people who chose to relocate were advised and given time to pack up their belongings. On Saturday, whatever was left behind was cleared by city crews.

Those remaining at the encampment were asked to move from private property at the site onto an adjacent property owned by the city.

'Just threw me away'

Shelly Harrison says she was able to remove her belongings but Saturday morning the city moved in and tore down her tent.

"Whatever was there they took it down and took it away," she said, "I'm obviously pretty upset, I've been there five years and they just threw me away like a piece of garbage."

She said she lived at the camp with her partner for five years. Although she has been told she has a place at Cove Shelter, she's not sure if she will stay there, or where she will go.

Shelly Harrison says she lived at the Sanctuary Tent City in Surrey for five years until November 23, 2019, when city crews arrived to clean up the side of the encampment she stayed on. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Dave Diewert, an advocate for vulnerable people with an organization called Alliance Against Displacement, says the new shelter is helpful but not for some people who are fearful of them.

"For many there have been experiences that are traumatic and this is not a place for them," he said.

He's concerned that people weren't given enough notice about having to move and that there isn't enough space in the shelter for everyone at the encampment who wants to go there.

"They're still left to fend for themselves in the rain and the rats and everything else that comes with it," he said. "So this is not housing that anybody wants, nor is the shelter or the temporary [modular housing]. We need real dignified, permanent housing."

Tents at an encampment in Surrey known as the Sanctuary Tent City off King George Boulevard near 112 Avenue. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

The city says it is concerned about the people who remain at the encampment, especially as the weather turns colder.

It says on Nov. 13, Surrey Fire crews responded to a tent fire at the site, which was caused by a gas-powered appliance. No one was hurt, but officials say propane cylinders, butane cans and flammable tarps at the encampment create a safety hazard.

With files from Deborah Goble