Homeless citizens, civic officials, and advocates are again looking for answers after Langley evicted a number of people who have been living under a bridge for the past six months.
“Where can we go?” asked Kirsten Ratcliffe.
“There’s absolutely nowhere,” said Lina Fyfe.
Fyfe and Ratcliffe are among more than a dozen people who were sleeping under the bridge over the Nicomekl River on 56th Avenue (next to the Christian Life Assembly church).
Fyfe has been there since January, and has a tidy camp including a mattress, table, a couple of chairs, and a vase with some flowers and a feather set into a niche in the concrete wall of the bridge.
Civic officials are worried about fires being lit under the bridge for warmth or cooking, as well as holes being dug in the sandy ground, where pipelines run.
“You’re constantly told ‘you have to leave’,” said Fyfe. “They won’t tell you where you can go.”
That same situation has played out dozens of times in recent years across the Langleys. Homeless camps have formed in parks, vacant lots, and under bridges.
Eventually, City or Township bylaw officers, with RCMP members on hand to keep the peace, are sent to clean them out. The homeless are evicted. They settle somewhere else, and within weeks or months the process repeats itself.
On Friday, June 29, a Township bylaw officer arrived to dismantle the camp where Fyfe has lived.
Local advocates for the homeless were there to intercede on her behalf. Kim Snow of Kimz Angels brought food for the people living under the bridge, and Pastor Leith White of the Friends Vineyard Church brought coffee.
They also hoped to organize a reprieve.
When the officials arrived, Fyfe confronted one of the officers and raised her voice. The other officer helped calm the situation. Fyfe and others are terrified of being arrested, and also fear being evicted into the rain with no clear plan of where to go next.
White took the bylaw officer aside and negotiated a three-day delay in moving the camp. He pointed out that moving everyone, in the rain, just before the Canada Day long weekend, would benefit no one. The homeless people would likely move to a public park, in the absence of anywhere else to stay.
Fyfe is banned from the Gateway of Hope shelter, which at its maximum capacity can hold fewer than half of the homeless people living on Langley’s streets. According to the 2017 count, 206 people were homeless in Langley, a 124 per cent increase over three years from the previous count.
“Where do they go?” asked Snow, who gathers and distributes food, blankets, and clothing to the homeless with a team of volunteers.
“It’s been like this for years,” said Fraser Holland, a homelessness outreach worker with Stepping Stone Community Services Society in Langley. “‘You can’t be here.’ ‘Well, where do we go?’” is the refrain heard again and again, Holland said.
Snow wants to see the Quality Inn supportive housing project, proposed by BC Housing and local service groups, go forward.
That project will create 49 rooms for local homeless people, but it has yet to be approved by Langley Township council.
“The thing is, we need something now,” she said.