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Is the homelessness crisis in Abbotsford growing? A look inside an encampment

Abbotsford, B.C. -

Take a drive along the Trans-Canada Highway through Abbotsford and you will see a community faced with a homelessness crisis that it cannot change alone.

There are encampments on provincially owned land near overpasses and on-ramps.

There are tents in the open spaces next to the highway and in areas partially hidden by trees.

“We have people coming in from surrounding communities and just more people entering homelessness, not being able to pay their rent,” said Josh Burton, the program manager with CEDAR outreach.

When asked by CTV News if the province would shut down the encampments Wednesday, the housing minister did not directly answer. Instead, he said there are ongoing discussions with communities about homelessness in the Fraser Valley.

“I do think we have a path forward," said Ravi Kahlon. "It’s going to require work. It’s going to require collaboration."

One of the most visible camps on provincial land is just off the freeway at Clearbrook Road.

When CTV News went by the camp in April, there was only a handful of tents.

Now, there are about 20 people living there, and the growing numbers are a concern to police.

“I would suggest we’re starting to reach a critical mass of individuals that will start to cause internal problems," explained Insp. Kevin Murray of the Abbotsford Police Department.

"A lot of the Lonzo Park and Ride stuff happened because it was a large group of people all with complex health and mental health issues in a confined space.”

The notorious Lonzo camp, which the province shut down in June, was a hotspot for crime. The province has promised a temporary homeless shelter will open at the site by year’s end.

Meanwhile, police say the Clearbrook camp has not seen an “appreciable increase” in area crime.

But Murray said what’s inside the camp is still attracting unwanted attention.

“The larger your footprint, the more criticism you receive from the general public, who will see these camps with a slip n’ slide, with hockey nets, fitness equipment and then garbage strewn about,’ said Murray.

The hockey net and fitness equipment is still at the camp. Photos taken during the summer and provided to CTV News also show a basketball net and inflatable pool.

One of the people living in the camp is Joey.

“I tried the shelter a couple times, but it’s dirty and your stuff gets stolen,” he said.

CTV News first met him 15 years ago as he struggled with meth addiction.

He said he stopped using hard drugs six months ago.

“I smoke pot now, but that’s it,” he said.

But even with the progress he’s made, he said with a criminal record and high rents, he’s not sure how he could ever escape a life of homelessness.

“We’re not all bad people,” Joey said. “Bunch of us (have criminal) records, yes. A bunch of us have made really bad choices in life. But this camp is one of the cleaner ones."

Elle moved to the camp recently.

She said one of the reasons campers say choose that particular location is because it’s out in the open, which makes her feel more secure.

“We’re all in a group and we can protect each other,” explained Elle. “We get our food from outreach. We get our food from dumpsters. We get our food from where we can get."

Strangers also drop off food, but police say the gesture of kindness is actually not helpful.

“What is helpful is to provide those donations to the outreach services with the trained staff who know these individuals on a personal level,” Murray explained. “We see a lot of people dumping furniture, couches, supplies they don’t want in their house anymore and bringing it to a homeless camp … and it just perpetuates this criticism that these camps get too big."

Meanwhile, Joey said that to him, the camp feels like community.

“It’s an unwanted family, but it’s a family. We’re trying to make it all together,” he said. Top Stories

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