'I don't see an end at this point': The struggle to shut down a violent homeless camp in Abbotsford
It’s the largest and most violent homeless camp in Abbotsford and a weekly source of complaints to police.
Years after the site first sprang up, many wonder if what’s known as the Lonzo camp will ever be shut down.
On one side of the encampment, there are burned-out RVs and decrepit trailers, like the one a woman named Laura calls home.
“It’s worn down. I have a bunch of rats running around, no running water,” she said.
The 26-year-old told CTV News she ended up living on the streets in B.C. after fleeing an abusive relationship in another province.
On the other side of the site, there are tents and makeshift shelters, mostly tucked away from public view.
The property is littered with bike parts, used needles and garbage.
“You have lots of garbage here. You have rotting food. You have different pockets of people that might not get along with each other,” explained Sgt. Paul Walker of the Abbotsford Police Department as he walked through the area.
“I don’t see an end at this point,” he said.
Police say the Lonzo encampment has been growing—and so too have its problems.
Last year, Abbotsford Fire Rescue responded to 322 calls at the camp and police responded to 106 calls for violent crime in the area.
Over the years, officers have seized weapons of all sorts, which police say were sometimes brought by unwanted guests.
“We’re having weapons such as knifes, axes, assault involving those things, firearms that are being taken out of here, both real and imitation, weapons of opportunity, bear spray,” said Walker.
Walker also said crime has been spilling into the surrounding community.
“You have people that are running their businesses, trying to provide, pay the bills…but then they’re getting victimized by people that are in this camp,” Walker said.
Police responded to close to 1,600 calls in the area in 2022.
While officers continue to tackle criminal behavior in the encampment, both police and the municipal government lack the ability to shut the camp down.
“This homeless camp here at Lonzo is on Ministry of Transportation lands. Our city bylaws don’t apply to that property,” Walker said.
For more than a week, CTV News tried to speak with Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, but were told he was unavailable.
In a statement, his ministry said it is working with other ministries “to provide outreach and to find safer, more suitable housing options and supports.”
Abbotsford’s mayor says the province is well aware of the community’s struggles.
“We’re aggressively pursuing some alternative housing options and looking at how we clean that up,” said Ross Siemens.
B.C.’s housing minister said he has visited the Lonzo encampment and ensured help is on the way.
Ravi Kahlon said 408 units of affordable housing are under development in Abbotsford, though it’s not clear when they will open.
“We know that area, especially around Lonzo, needs to be cleaned up. We’ve been working closely with mayor and council to find a solution for housing for those that need it, and working on ways to get rid of the criminal element that seems to be plaguing that area as well,” Kahlon said.
Some campers at Lonzo have previously been moved into housing, according to Kahlon, decreasing the number of people currently living in the camp.
But Laura said while she’d much rather be in housing, it hasn’t been an option.
“I’ve been on a list for three years now and I haven’t been offered housing once,” she said.
She isn’t sure what scares her most, battling a drug addiction, or living in a place like Lonzo.
“I came to the realization that it’s either you keep doing the drugs and it will kill you, or you’re going to be here and something bad’s going to happen and that will kill you,” she said.
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