Most mornings, a City of Langley bylaw officer will drop by the collection of tents in the trees on the Nickomkl floodplain near 208 Street and Fraser Highway to remind the occupants that while they have a legal right to camp there, the tents have to come down during the day.
A visit by a Times reporter on Monday counted about a dozen people and tents pitched along the tree line, most hidden in the trees.
Most of the tents had been taken down but left in place.
Some local residents think the city isn’t doing enough.
“I drive by it all the time,” Sharon Newbery said.
“It just seems to be growing in size.”
Newbery is concerned that the camp could become a tent city like the ones that generated headlines in Abbotsford and Victoria.
“People shouldn’t have to live in a tent on the side of the road,” Newbery said.
Newbery is a former member of the Langley City Public Safety committee, which has identified crime and homelessness as important issues in the city.
She said driving them away and shuffling them to another community is no solution.
“I want to see these people with homes,” Newbery said.
“They need help and that’s what we need to do, first off.”
Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer said the municipality has limited options.
“We’re working within the limits of the law,” Schaffer said.
“They (the homeless) have rights, too.”
Those rights were defined by the B.C. Supreme Court last year when it overturned a city of Abbotsford ban on sleeping overnight in city parks.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that when there aren’t enough shelter spaces in a community, banning sheltered outdoor sleeping violates fundamental rights.
“The evidence shows … that there is a legitimate need for people to shelter and rest during the day and no indoor shelter in which to do so,” Hinkson wrote.
Darcy Hawkes has the most visible camp at the entrance to the Nicomekl floodplain, out in the open where he sorts through the items he recycles from waste bins.
Hawkes knows some people in the area are unhappy about the camp.
“We hear people honking their horns,” he said.
“From the time they start by the bridge they’ll honk their horn until they get past here. And then there’s the comments that you can hear out of the car windows. It’s never a positive comment.”
He said the people in the tents are there because they have no other place to stay.
“They need places to live,” Hawkes said. “Simple as that.”
Some don’t even have tents, he said.
At nighttime, he said as many as “30 or 40 people” will show up, “couch-surfers” looking for a place to sleep.
At her well-organized camp kitchen, M.R.(who asked that her full name not be used), a 55-year-old woman and long-time Langley resident, was preparing lunch for some people on a portable propane stove.
“It doesn’t make me a bad person (to be homeless),” she said.
“It’s the community that should be ashamed. Nobody deserves to be treated like garbage.”
M.R. said people are living in the trees because provincial financial assistance only provides a “ridiculous” sum of $375 a month for housing in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world.
People who still have homes have “villain-ized” those who don’t, she said.
“Where can we go?”
There has to be ongoing help for the homeless from senior government, Mayor Schaffer said.
“They’re doing the best they can to survive. The city is doing the best it can. The province is sitting on its hands.”
Schaffer said the city and Township have approached Fraser Health about getting an ACT Team (Assertive Community Treatment) to help homeless people in need.
“We’ve asked Fraser Health for it and they said ‘we don’t have the resources,” Schaffer said.
Photo: Bruce Halverson stands in another resident’s kitchen at a Langley City homeless camp. Dan Ferguson/Langley Times.