The homeless campers in Nicomekl Park know they have to go – but not all want to move into emergency shelter spaces at the Gateway of Hope.
Langley City is increasing pressure on the cluster of tents that has gathered in the park off 208th Street south of Fraser Highway.
Part of that is due to the ongoing accumulation of items at the campsites.
“There’s garbage, debris,” said Langley City chief administrative officer Francis Cheung. If not cleaned up, “it’s going to be a public health and safety issue,” he said.
The other major issue is that the park will soon be underwater. Nicomekl Park is part of the floodplain, and several times a year it is covered in several feet of water. Warning signs have been posted around the park for the homeless.
Those camping there know they can’t stay much longer.
“It’s not a permanent solution for sure,” said Darcy Hawkes. “We’re all looking for somewhere to be.”
City bylaw officers are upping their presence and trying to get the campers to move from the park into new emergency spaces funded by B.C. Housing. The 30 temporary relief mats will be open at the Gateway of Hope until the end of March.
Those using them will have access to three meals a day, showers, laundry, and storage space for one shopping cart of possessions.
The extra mats opened up Monday, and 22 of the 30 were in use, said Cheung.
“My understanding is that there was nobody from Nicomekl who came to the Gateway,” said Cheung.
“All they want us to do is go into the shelter,” said Hawkes.
He said he shouldn’t be there.
“I have anger management issues,” said Hawkes.
Hawkes has been homeless for about a year and a half, since he was evicted from local housing.
Others have only been in the park for a few weeks, like Shannon.
“If I had somewhere to go, I’d be there,” she said.
Shannon was sleeping on a couch in a house with several other people. The owner let people with no homes to crash there, but when he sold and moved, she headed to the park.
“At least here I’m sleeping by some people that I know, and friends,” she said.
She doesn’t want to lose personal possessions, and sleep on a mat next to “creepy” strangers, she said.
“I never thought I’d end up here, never,” Shannon said. “Once you get knocked down, it’s very hard to find a way to get up again.”
With welfare giving $375 for shelter allowance, there’s no way to rent. Living in a tent in the park doesn’t make it easy to find a job.
Shannon said she would jump through any hoops to get into an actual home through B.C. Housing, but she didn’t want to go into a shelter.
Most of the people in the park said they would move, but they didn’t know where they would go next.
Cheung said the City will keep working on getting the park campers to move out voluntarily.
“We want voluntary compliance,” said Cheung.
Local residents have been complaining about the campers for months.
Egon Pedersen and Mels Hildrum are both seniors who live nearby. They paused in the park during their daily walk around the neighbourhood.
“What about the rest of us?” asked Hildrum.
Residents have had concerns about crime and drug use in the area.
The same concerns were seen last year when there were clusters of homeless people in the City’s downtown.
A court injunction is an option for the City to force people to move out during the day, said Cheung, but they don’t want to have to use that option.
“They are citizens,” Cheung said of the homeless. “They can have the enjoyment of the parks, as long as they don’t set up a tent.”
A B.C. Supreme Court ruling a year ago found that cities cannot evict people who have nowhere else to live from public parks.
The ruling allows the homeless to camp in parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. However, cities and towns can ban permanent campsites that are up during the day.
Enforcement of the homeless camps around Langley City has not been cheap, according to Cheung.
The City has spent up to $250,000 this year on homeless camps and related issues, he said. That includes staff time and the cost of clearing up camps themselves.