• Nathaniel G. Sands

A War In Our Own Backyard

Today I went down to Maple Ridge’s homeless camp, Anita Place. Arriving at the police barricade, I was told that arrests had been made. This was my second day standing outside of the camp being quarantined.

I spent much of Saturday on the outside of said barricade, observing and conversing, trying to understand what is really going on. The city was given permission by the courts to enter the camp. I walked the perimeter, which hardly showed much. Strategically they placed large yellow bins, with plenty of room for the bobcats to dump things like (which I saw,) barbecues and Jerry-cans, at least 30 police/security/bylaw officers from various detachments (and ranks, which matters when it comes to overtime and tax-dollars,) scattered to fill gaps and walls, a Firefighting team (and the truck of course), and at least 10 city workers (which I observed for most of Saturday, “screwing the pooche,” as they say.)

It has been nearly two years since the Anita Place Tent City was established. Not long after the camp opened, I spent a weekend there with the two Bradley’s (One is a dog, the other a pastor). We both packed tents, talked to the leader of the camp which was Tracy at the time, and found ourselves a spot to set up shop. Having camped many times before, my tent and chair were set up in 15 minutes and began to wonder what to do without being a fire. Even with the mild August nights, I remember waking up cold.

The municipality of Maple Ridge has entered the camp and confiscated anything that may be used for warmth. Apparently the city is planning to work with BC Housing to implement a safe heating system. Whether that's true or not, nothing has gone in, and bins are being filled. The police have been inspecting all tents (apparently locks have been cut), and each resident is required to register with either photo-identification or allow for a photo of them to be taken.

What has been told to me today, (although I have no proof), is that the leader of a protest group called Alliance Against Displacement, Ivan Drury, along with a few others committed to the protest (Five, as far as I'm aware), were hauled out of the camp, and I quote, “through the mud.” My last update says neither he nor the others have made contact.

On Saturday, spending a great deal of time out front of the barricades, I often saw Ivan, a few other protesters, and lawyers inside, only coming out to address the press and the many people present. I was distracted by much of it, some shouting, others bickering… even a physical altercation, which was tame by my standards, and no officers got involved, thankfully.

Five years ago, our former mayor campaigned on the promise that within six months of being elected, she would fix the homelessness issue. The new mayor ran on a similar platform, albeit a little more sophisticated.

Mixing in and out of the divided crowd – experiencing this angst, both sides full of passion – the roller coaster was intense and interesting. Its hard to describe the various emotions and motivations that flood the mind, but overall, I find it tremendously sad.

It seems to me we are not digging deep enough into the issues of how and why the homeless camp formed and why it has grown. That’s my analysis at least - from spending the weekend, a year-and-a-half ago, to bringing pizza down on New Year’s Eve 2019, despite the city starting to build more shelters like the one on Royal Crescent, I see more people in Anita Place than ever.

Standing at the barricade, one lady said to me, under a bit of a nasty tone, "If they would just stop doing drugs!" I responded with, "Have you thought about where they get the drugs? Who benefits from addiction?”

I have often wondered why such anger gets directed at the homeless. I think it comes from some assumptions - which certainly contains truth, but of course not the full story. Thievery, (most people assume when they have something stolen its down at the camp, but there are certainly professional thieves in our town - anyone who works industrial like me will know this to be true). Drugs, (and as I mentioned before, we aren't looking at who keeps drugs in the addicts hands, from professional criminals to doctors handing out arbitrary prescriptions), Welfare and tax-dollar interventions - No one wants to analyze how much the city will have spent on the over-time earnings for nearly 100 workers, who could have certainly gotten the this job done in one day – But what is there motivation?

We have been misled. These people have been neglected. We have been neglected. From the closure of Riverview to the housing crisis, the government has been either incompetent or corrupt – the news being full of high level politicians caught in various scandals.

It seems to me the homeless camp is a manifestation of the accumulation of issues that has been building in our society.

The battle for the ground of Anita Place has so far been a siege war. Certainly not anymore. But where will they go from here?

I believe it is the will of the higher-up's to enact as much strain on the camp as the power of the law will give them (and then some, I believe). Authorities invaded and raided, ironically on “the coldest night of the year." Some local politicians showed up to the Salvation Army's event. I saw none at Anita Place.

I think that it is the hope of those in Authority to demoralize and put stress on the residents of Anita Place, in order to pressure an abandonment by those present… But who knows what tomorrow brings.

A house divided amongst itself cannot stand. We are witnessing an undeclared civil war. The lines are vague. The violence is psychological – Emotional and spiritual.

We are in a troubling time of division and anger.

Why do you think were so angry? As Heath Ledger’s Joker would say, “It’s fear.”

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