'Deformities in the fish': Pollutants found in waterways near Fraser Valley encampments
Hidden along old logging roads and tucked in near rivers and waterways, are campers who have made Crown land near the Chilliwack River their homes.
Some of the encampments have been here for months, and there are old trailers as well as make-shift shelters.
“The Fraser Valley has experienced a 48 per cent increase in homelessness,” said Afia Raja, an assistant professor of land use and environment change at the University of the Fraser Valley.
She’s referencing the most recent numbers available from a homeless count in 2021. But a count later this year is expected to show a growing number of unhoused people.
“These encampments, there’s no regulation on them. It’s just illegally occupied,” she said.
There are worries for the campers as well as the environment.
Around 6,800 kilograms of garbage was recently hauled out of a camp left mostly abandoned after a fire broke out.
The clean up was crucial so the debris didn’t end up in the nearby creek and river when water levels rise.
“It’s different kinds of minerals as well that are toxic to the fishes and to the whole aquatic life that gets threatened due to these pollutants,” Raja said
A team from UFV has been periodically monitoring the Chilliwack River and has found evidence of pollutants from garbage.
“Then there are deformities in the fish as well. Plus what we drink as humans, when it reaches the larger water bodies, that also gets contaminated,” Raja explained.
She says relocating homeless people into housing is crucial.
BC Housing recently announced the construction of 49 supportive homes and 42 permanent shelter spaces for people at risk of and experiencing homelessness in Chilliwack, according to a statement from the agency.
“These spaces will address the need to house people living in encampments in the Chilliwack area, including spaces with enhanced supports,” a statement reads.
“Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Centre will operate the building and will provide supportive housing (to) residents and shelter guests with daily meals, life and employment skills training, health and wellness support services, and culturally appropriate supports for Indigenous residents.”
The Housing Ministry also says that BC Housing is funding ore than 200 shelter spaces in Chilliwack this winter. The minister was not available for an interview.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said it takes the protection of human health and the environment seriously.
To report illegal dumping or environmental violations call the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277
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