The “Abbotsford Shuffle”: cold weather a dangerous element for homeless campers

Recycling crews working for B.C. Hydro start to tear down tent-city on Gladys Avenue

As the summer weather starts to fade, Abbotsford’s homeless population living in the tent city on Gladys Avenue will start to suffer the cold consequences.

On Sept. 13, recycling crews hired by BC Hydro were given an order to start taking down the shelters, which are home to over 35 people. The order came after a night of heavy rain.

Drug War Survivors volunteer Harvey Claus said repeated evictions are a dangerous game the homeless have to play.

“Where are people going to go? It’s killing people, slowly – it’s going to kill them,” he said. “Right now they want us to move our tents and stuff. They are soaking wet from the rain; that’s going to damage them.”

The game, coined the “Abbotsford Shuffle” by the city’s homeless community, sees bylaw officers kick them off city land and force them to move to nearby BC Hydro land. BC Hydro then orders them off the private land and they move back to city land.

The homeless are told to go “anywhere but here,” says Drug War Survivors program co-ordinator Amanda Bonella.

“We have no idea where these official lines are,” she said. “They all want housing. Harvey has been waiting for two decades.”

Claus claims the people living in the tent city weren’t given any notice, and the weather conditions made the move “impossible.”

“Our blankets are soaking wet from the rain,” he said. “Some people don’t think we have a right to survive.”

Recycling crews are sent to Gladys Avenue almost twice a week, according to one recycling crew member, Ethan Kpseh. On Sept. 13, his crew was told to get rid of all of the tents. The police were present as they started dismantling the shelters.

“It doesn’t really seem like anything is getting done,” Kpseh said. “It’s definitely not fun kicking people out of their homes. I know that.”

Mayor Henry Braun said that as the weather gets colder, people can find refuge in designated extreme weather shelters around the city, but there are those who won’t accept the space the city offers.

“They say, ‘No, I don’t want to go there.’ That’s the end of that conversation,” he said. “We’re trying to manage it as best as we can with the resources that we have.”

Braun said he gets a lot of calls asking why the city is not enforcing the bylaws.

As the recycling crews were on site, Claus said he and others were going to refuse the eviction due to fear of having their belongings damaged or stolen. He says their camp was on city land and the crews working for BC Hydro had no authority to kick them off.

“We’re going to have nothing to sleep in tonight,” he said. “I have to walk away or be arrested.”

The tent city was not completely taken down on Sept. 13, but recycling crews renewed their efforts on Sept. 18.

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