Homeless people should look to existing services while waiting for a proposed new supportive housing project, senior officials in Langley City and Township said recently.
Last week, a homeless camp was dismantled under the bridge over the Nicomekl Creek on 56th Avenue. It was only the latest of a series of homeless camp evictions that takes place in a regular cycle.
Street people set up a camp, eventually City or Township bylaw officers step in to have it moved or dismantled. The homeless move to a new park or vacant lot, and the process begins again.
“There’s services available for people who are homeless, living in tents,” said Township Mayor Jack Froese.
The Township and other agencies can connect the homeless to the resources they need to get off the streets, said Froese.
“It’s up to the individual if they want to be connected,” he said.
He noted it’s not the mandate of municipal governments to build housing.
Langley City administrator Francis Cheung also said there were some options, such as through Stepping Stone and BC Housing, which help place some homeless people in rental accommodation.
“It’s a complex and complicated issue,” Cheung said.
More housing is needed, Cheung said.
“We collectively… need to have housing options, a continuum of housing options,” he said. The options needed range from simple rental housing to supportive housing to drug and mental health treatment, he said.
Both Cheung and Froese pointed to the proposed Quality Inn supportive housing project, which has yet to come before Township council for approval.
If Township council passes it, which could happen as soon as this fall, it would create 49 spaces for homeless Langley residents. The project has drawn both support and opposition, with many neighbours concerned it will increase crime and drug use in their area.
Not everyone wants a home, Froese and Cheung said.
“A lot of them find it’s okay to be outside,” Froese said.
Froese ruled out the idea of creating a designed homeless camp.
“I don’t know if a tent city’s the answer,” he said. “I think we need to see something more permanent.”
Provincial court rulings allow homeless people to camp in public parks, but only overnight. They cannot set up permanent camps or leave tents up during the day. Langley City has also put a bylaw in place banning camping in Douglas Park in the City’s downtown.
Cheung noted that other citizens have rights as well as the homeless campers to public space.
Langley Township had to increase its annual budget for cleaning up homeless camps this year.
While some homeless camps are small and clean, others are sprawling masses of trash that can take hours to clean up. The garbage has to be hauled away at taxpayers expense.