Sharon (not her real name), one of the homeless people camped out in Langley City’s Nicomekl Park, hasn’t always lived on the streets.
The woman in her late 50s is one of a number of Langley’s homeless who have moved into the park during the last month and a half.
Over the past 12 years, she has battled a major addiction, been in and out of apartments, and is now facing a leukemia diagnosis.
“I need a place to live,” she said.
She’s currently living under tarps and tents strung up near the parking lot and paths that run through the floodplain.
Though she’s lived in rental places in the past, right now she said she’s given up looking. She hates rejection, and it’s hard to find anything she and her partner of seven years can live in.
The site, like several before it, has been drawing more attention in recent weeks.
“The camp is getting larger,” said Sharon Newbery, a City resident and former member of the public safety committee.
Langley’s homeless population has moved several times during the past year and a half. For a time it was concentrated in a few spots in the downtown near Fraser Highway.
“I can see that it’s going to get out of control if things aren’t done soon,” Newbery said. “Something needs to be done to help these people, and moving them from spot to spot isn’t a solution.”
The park is closer to the eastern outskirts of the City, but still close to roads, apartments, and pathways.
Newbery knows that finding permanent housing for homeless will not be easy with the current housing market.
So do homelessness outreach workers like Fraser Holland of Starting Point.
The piece that isn’t in the City’s current homelessness plan is a form of immediate housing, Holland said.
While the problem is complex, there are some homeless who, once housed, stay that way.
The City’s long term goal is to provide more supportive housing.Supportive housing is a step between something like a shelter and a solo rental. Supportive housing has staff on site and helps people kicking drug addiction or getting help for mental health problems.
“It’s not a simple solution,” said City administrator Francis Cheung. “It’s so complex.”
The City would have to work with other jurisdictions, including the provincial government, to get supportive housing in place.
In the meantime, the City asks the homeless sleeping in parks to move along during the day.
Court rulings in B.C. have found that people without a home have a right to sleep in public parks. But municipal governments have a right to order them to move along and clear away their campsites during the daytime.
“We have tried to comply with that ruling,” said Cheung.
Both homeless and housed residents have rights, said Cheung.
“It’s a very difficult balancing act to meet,” he said.
Bylaw officers are asking people to move their tents by 9 a.m.
“We don’t always get compliance,” Cheung said.
The City is also trying to clear away some of the extra material and debris.
As for Sharon in the camp, she isn’t getting treatment for her leukemia until she gets a roof over her head.
“You can’t get chemo if you can’t find a place to live,” she said.