Families with young children in the downtown core may finally get a park back from homeless people who set up in the small green space day after day, doing drugs and otherwise disrupting the neighbourhood.
Young families of the Newmark apartments and other nearby residents have long complained that the toddler-focused park at the corner of Bole and Fletcher was essentially unusable by neighbours because of the near constant “undesirable activity” in the park.
This week, City of Chilliwack maintenance crews came in, ripped out bushes and small trees along the edges of the park and fenced it off temporarily.
“There is some general maintenance taking place at Bole and Fletcher Park,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz told The Progress Tuesday. “Part of it was planned in order for parks staff to effectively implement CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) improvements.”
Gaetz said the park will remain closed until the improvements are complete.
“I can confirm that the city has received complaints about undesirable activity taking place in the park and we are hopeful that the CPTED improvements will help address those concerns.”
But long-time downtown homeless resident Tom Spooner said kicking the homeless out of the park goes contrary to Fraser Health’s public health messages to help stem the current opioid overdose crisis.
Spooner said a 52-year-old woman just died on the weekend, and he’s seen countless street people die of overdose in Chilliwack in the four-and-a-half years he’s been in town.
“How many more are going to die?” he asked, complaining that city crew came in, ripped up the trees and bushes and shut the park, forcing them all to scatter to more isolate places.
He pointed to Fraser Health’s number one tip for preventing an overdose: “Don’t use alone.” Kicking the homeless out of parks only force users into corners and isolation, worsening the overdose risk, Spooner argued.
“When I got that tent city going we never had one fatal,” he said, pointing to the homeless encampment a few years back near the old Empress site in the parking lots at Five Corners.
When asked about that argument, Coun. Sam Waddington said he understood the reality that people using should do it in a safe way, but parks are not the place.
“While people who are addicted need to be doing it in places with others, we see that happening, those populations are very tight, I just think it’s a bit of a stretch to say public parks are good for that.”
Gaetz said the city hopes the playground portion of the Bole and Fletcher Park will be open as quickly as possible so children can enjoy it this summer.