Police blocked off access to the tent city. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

UPDATE: Maple Ridge homeless camp evacuation proceeds without incident

Advocates say camp residents should be allowed to return to site after safety inspections

Most resident of Anita Place Tent city were evacuated from the Maple Ridge homeless camp, generally without incident, by 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Fire officials and police moved in on the camp just after noon, and a truck brought in steel fencing to secure the site. There were enforcing an evacuation order issued by the Provincial Fire Commission after there were three fires in two days at the camp, and a total of nine over almost two years.

The city issued a press release on Saturday afternoon saying it would be allowing camp residents to stay at the former RainCity shelter for 48 hours.

“On Saturday, March 2 the City of Maple Ridge activated the Emergency Support Services (ESS) team to provide a reception centre for the people occupying the St. Anne Camp who are being evacuated from the site,” said the release. “The reception centre will be located on Lougheed Highway east of 222 Avenue where the Salvation Army has been providing emergency cold weather beds. The ESS team consists of city staff supported by trained volunteers.

“As they do in any emergency situation, the team will check people into the reception centre and assess their needs. People in the care of the ESS team will be provided with meals and a warm and safe place to sleep.”

Camp advocate Chris Bossley said the shelter is “a step backwards.” Those comments were echoed by residents of the camp.

“They’re returning them to the place they kicked them out of, that ended up creating Anita Place Tent City. And the people there are not happy that is where they are being told to go,” she said. “They won’t mind, as long as it’s temporary – as long as they can return to Anita Place Tent City.”

Bossley said she was relieved the situation did not flare up, as it did last Sunday when six people were arrested during safety inspections of the camp.

Minister of Housing Selina Robinson also issued a statement about the evacuation order.

“The province is offering significant support to the people living in the Anita Place camp, and to the City of Maple Ridge,” she said. “We have activated Emergency Social Services to make sure that everyone who has been evacuated can access shelter, food and health and social services.”

“In the longer term, this reinforces the need to act quickly and buld more supportive housing in Maple Ridge,” added the minister.

“Dozens of former Anita Place camers now have the dignity of homes and support services in the modular housing we opened several months ago.

“We must move quickly and work together to get more people in the safe and supportive homes they urgently need.”

The Pivot Legal Society is preparing to resume its court battle on behalf of camp residents.

Pivot lawyer Caitlin Shane said the recent evacuation order should not lead to the permanent dismantling of the Maple Ridge homeless camp, but the intent is not clear.

“We don’t know, but we hope not.”

She arrived at the camp early on Saturday morning, after the evacuation order was issued in response to the recent fires.

“We don’t know the cause of the fires, but there has been a significant uptick,” she said, noting there were six fires over almost two years, and now three in two days.

She said residents have been threatened by people saying they will set fires.

“The heavy handedness by the city, the fire department and the RCMP has exacerbated the problem,” said Shane.

Pivot is hoping to get in front of the courts to appeal the Feb. 8 Supreme Court order that allows the city to gather information from camp residents and remove accelerants, electrical connections and other materials that pose a fire safety risk at the camp.

Pivot will also ask for a stay, or suspension, of the city’s fire safety enforcement measures, she said, on the basis the city is not complying with the court order.

Longtime camp resident Pete Woodrow said the residents are in shock.

“They are really trepidatious about what is going to happen,” he said, adding he has been urging calm.

“I’ve been here all night just talking to people,” he said. “I’m hoping the city and the RCMP are going to be compassionate. I’m hoping they are going to be respectful. I’m hoping things are going to go a lot smoother than they have in the recent past.”

Six people were arrested at the site during enforcement of safety inspections last Sunday.

Woodrow said camp residents are suffering effects of post traumatic stress after all of the fires.

“They’re freaked right out. They don’t trust anybody anymore. We’ve got a core group in here they do trust, and that’s what we’re trying to keep.”

Camp spokesperson Chris Bossley called the evacuation “another strong arm tactic by the city.”

“It would be nice if they were evacuating the people here because they were concerned about their safety. I really don’t think they are. I think they just want the people out of here.”

She said the residents do not know the cause of the three fires.

She said the devastation left after the fires have made the site unlivable in its current condition. She was going to ask for volunteers to help clean it up.

“It’s like your house burning down, and you’re living in your house.”

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There was a heavy security presence at Anita Place Tent City on Saturday morning. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

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