Chilliwack news: Environmental concerns around homeless camp

Chilliwack news: Environmental concerns around homeless camp

A large Fraser Valley homeless camp in an environmentally sensitive area was cleaned up by volunteers.

But there are growing concerns about the impact of similar camps on rivers and streams, and rising numbers of homeless people.

Recently, volunteers came to the camp and hauled out around 15,000 pounds. from garbage.

“There were between 15 and 20 people living here in their own makeshift sheds,” explained volunteer Adila Shaukat of Streams Foundation Canada.

But the camp, which is on Crown Land just outside Chilliwack’s borders, recently caught fire and all but a few squatters fled the site, leaving their belongings behind.

Shaukat said the concern is that the camp is on a river. When the spring meltdown begins, the area becomes flooded and trash ends up in the waterways.

“We want to clean up before the water covers the area and takes all the rubbish with it,” explained Schaukat.

“We’re going to lose all our salmon if we don’t take care of it.”

Just a few weeks ago, volunteers from the same organization cleaned up a larger camp along the Chilliwack River. In this case, they pulled out almost 13,000 kg. garbage and 1.5 tons of metal.

“It was very close to the Chilliwack River and the water currents were already touching the trash and all the leftover stuff there,” she said, emphasizing the urgency of this cleanup.

Homelessness is on the rise in Chilliwack.

“It’s definitely growing,” said Scott Gaglardi, general manager of Ruth and Naoimi’s.

“At the last census in 2017 there were about 300 (homeless). So we’re counting on 450 to 500 (at the next count),” he explained.

Tom Snell, 35, has lived on the streets of Chilliwack for the past year and a half.

“It was definitely cold and dangerous,” he said. “I have a friend who lost part of his foot to frostbite.”

He said life on the streets is particularly difficult in winter.

“I spent nights outside, shivering from the cold and in the rain. It sucks. It really sucks,” he said.

Snell said he was unable to work after a car accident and ended up living in his car. Before he knew it, he was on the street.

But he is grateful that he recently moved into an apartment.

“It’s really nice to know that I have somewhere to go when it’s cold… my stuff is safe.”

Ruth and Naoimi’s offers 100 beds in two shelters that are always full. They also operate an emergency shelter during cold weather.

Gaglardi said there was still a lack of affordable housing.

“And the more rooted a person is on the street, the harder it is to find housing. To have people who can go with them isn’t just dropping them off at the door of a house, it’s making sure that some of the skills and insights that you have have that relationship,” he explained.

Back at camp, volunteers continue to work with the remaining campers.

“This environmental problem is the byproduct of homelessness,” Shaukat said.

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