The site next to Borden Creek as it was last May when neighbours in the Chilliwack River Valley were complaining non-stop about the garbage and environmental damage caused by a homeless encampment. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress file)

Provincial plan needed to address rural homeless camps: regional district

An encampment at Borden Creek dismantled last summer but regional district was not consulted

A provincial strategy to address homeless camps on Crown land is needed given the untenable pressure being downloaded onto Fraser Valley Regional District’s (FVRD) electoral areas, according to an FVRD report.

A resolution calling for a provincial strategy will be heading to the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention this fall, said FVRD chair Jason Lum.

“Municipalities have been forced to deal with homeless camps for quite some time but without a co-ordinated regional approach, the situation is putting undue pressure on the electoral areas,” Lum said. “As a region we need better co-ordination between municipalities and the rural areas, and clearly the province must be a big part of the solution.”

A homeless camp on Crown land at Borden Creek in the Chilliwack River Valley was finally dismantled late last summer, after six dogs were seized, and vehicles removed.

Several squatters had been camping creekside for eight months, irritating neighbours, piling up garbage, and generating complaints.

The homeless campers were eventually moved to another area by provincial reps with jurisdiction in housing and natural resources, with help from RCMP, but the FVRD was not asked to be involved in the relocation effort.

That incident was the catalyst for FVRD officials seeking a more co-ordinated approach.

“In late August 2018, the FVRD became aware, after the fact, of an initiative of the provincial government to relocate a homeless camp (Borden Creek) on Crown Land in the Chilliwack River Valley (Electoral Area E) to a private property in the Columbia Valley (Electoral Area H),” according to the FVRD report recommending a call for a provincial strategy. “While the FVRD has generally been aware of homeless camp problems on Crown land in the Chilliwack River Valley, the regional district was not consulted on this move.”

The “Office of Homelessness Coordination” was recently established by the Ministry of Poverty Reduction and Social Development, but it is very early days. It’s unknown whether the new office can address “what is clearly a gap in the province’s response to homelessness,” according to the FVRD report, prepared for the Regional and Corporate Services Committee.

Lum said FVRD officials want to make sure going forward that if they are dismantling encampments, they’re not just displacing homeless people throughout the region, but coming up with long-term housing solutions, with supports, along with environmental protection for the area.

“In addition to the health and homelessness issues, these camps put the environment at risk, with general garbage, human waste, used needles and other dangerous waste in the mix,” stated the report. “The provincial response is especially concerning in that the Borden Creek camp is one of a number camps in the Chilliwack River Valley.

“While FLNRORD [Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development] believes it has resolved the specific problem in the Chilliwack River Valley, it has merely shifted the problem to another community and has not addressed the fundamental issue of homelessness and related issues, for which the province is ultimately responsible,” the report writer argued. “Rural communities do not have the resources to address these challenges.”

The challenge of homelessness is not just the absence of physical housing, but is a complex situation requiring multi-agency solutions, including mental health and addictions expertise, and the regional district wants to make sure that “ad hoc” relocations do not become standard practice by provincial reps.

Although it hasn’t been discussed yet, Lum said he expects provincial officials will welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively in this way on the challenge of homeless encampments on Crown land.

“So a lead agency has to take the reins here, and it has to be resourced appropriately.”

A draft resolution is being prepared for consideration at the FVRD’s June 2019 Electoral Area Services Committee and Regional and Corporate Services Committee meetings.

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