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VIDEO UPDATE: Homeless have moved to original site on Gladys
Several occupants of a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue who were ordered out have moved this morning – back to the site where the city dumped manure in June in an effort to oust them from that spot.
Two pickup trucks from 5 and 2 Ministries, a local organization that advocates for the homeless, were loaded with possessions and driven up the road about 75 metres, where they are being unloaded at the "Happy Tree" by three of the camp occupants and 5 and 2 Ministries representatives.
"The circular motion of this move is indicative of the progress that has been made with the homeless issue: zero," said Jesse Wegenast of 5 and 2.
He suspects the residents will remain at the tree, until forced to move again.
Wegenast said he knows of at least four men who plan to return to the tree and likely more will follow.
He added that a camp removal is "as routine as can be" in Abbotsford and normally would not garner any attention. However, because of the manure incident, the media is out in full force.
"The reality is nobody in Abbotsford wants our city to be known as a place where the homeless are treated poorly … we are doing a really poor job of addressing these issues right now," he added.
Representatives of the Salvation Army were also present, offering meals, secure storage for their belongings and other services to the homeless.
Deb Lowell, spokesperson for the Salvation Army, said she was not surprised that many of the group moved back to the original site.
"Their options are they come into the shelter or if they choose not to do that, they choose somewhere outside at the moment."
She said they are making all their services available.
"In the bedlam of this day, we are trying to minimize the impact that it has on their well-being. It's a tough day," said Lowell.
City crews have blocked off the camp which was ordered dismantled, and a private contractor has been called in to clean up the site. Some occupants have indicated that they will not leave, and the mess will have to be cleaned up around them.
"From what we've been led to understand, there will be no forceable removal of anybody from the site, which is completely different than it was a few months ago," said Wegenast
Mayor Bruce Banman was on site and said his goal is for the city to be respectful and make the cleanup as non-traumatic as possible.
"At the end of the day we have to consider people's health and this is no longer a healthy atmosphere for people to be in," said Banman.
While he agrees that the homeless camp is merely being shifted from one location to another, Banman said the question on how to solve it is not just a municipal issue.
"The city ends up with the burden of this for the most part, but we have neither the resources nor the expertise to deal with this alone."
He said they have already partnered with several service groups to discuss solutions, but the solution may have to come from a higher political source.
"This is a problem that goes across Canada and I think that it's a shame that in a country as wealthy as Canada, that we have this large of an issue with regard to homeless. And I would plead to our partners, the province and federal [governments] to help us," said Banman.
A throng of Vancouver media arrived early this morning to cover the dismantling of the controversial site, which was given a 48-hour eviction notice by the City of Abbotsford on Tuesday afternoon.