An evacuation order for a controversial homeless camp in Maple Ridge, B.C., was lifted at noon on Monday.
Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said the city would implement a process to allow “verified occupants” to return to the Anita Place homeless camp.
“This plan ensures that the site remains safe for the people in and around the area and reflects the terms of the BC Supreme Court Order issued on February 8,” Morden said in a media release.
“We will continue to explore ways to ensure that social support systems are in place to see the camp come to an end.”
The city said that since the evacuation order was lifted on March 2, staff had removed 35 propane tanks, 611 cubic metres of “fire-related debris” and a variety of other combustible material and accelerants.
Shelters and structures on the site have also been moved away from the camp’s perimeter, and BC Housing is working on installing a heating system for a warming tent and restoring power to an on-site washroom and shower facility, added the city.
Camp supporters have been quick to lash out at the city’s resident verification process.
Activist group Alliance Against Displacement issued a media release accusing the city of “seizing control” of the camp.
“Anita Place residents encountered a checkpoint manned by private security guards and city staff,” said the group.
“Bylaw officers are barring access to residents who were unable to navigate the city’s opaque and deeply disorganized ‘verification’ process two weeks ago, which is part of the fire safety injunction order that the city was granted by the Supreme Court in February.”
The Pivot Legal Society, which represents the campers, says the city must now allow campers to return and abide by previous court decisions regarding the rights of homeless people to sleep in public spaces overnight.
“There were a number of residents who weren’t on site for the weekend — who might be in hospital, who might be in shelters — you know, the fact that they weren’t there for those two days doesn’t mean that they haven’t been calling Anita Place home for the last two years and that seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” said Pivot lawyer Caitlin Shane.
WATCH: Maple Ridge homeless campers stage demonstration following eviction
Police and first responders cleared the camp on March 2, acting on an evacuation order that was issued in the wake of three fires that took place within a single week in the camp.
Residents were moved to a temporary shelter space on Lougheed Highway while city crews cleared the site.
Earlier in February, police and city staff enforced an injunction on the camp, removing a warming tent and propane tanks over concerns about fire hazards.
WATCH: After years of controversy, Anita Place is finally evacuated by police and Maple Ridge city staff
The city had sought the order after at least six fires had been reported in the camp since it was erected in May 2017, one of which left a woman with serious burns.
Last Tuesday, Maple Ridge city council voted to move forward with a social housing plan, calling on city staff to put together a package of options with which to approach the province.
That plan is expected to return to council on Tuesday, March 12. Maple Ridge is also asking the province for $60 million to address housing issues and costs associated with the Anita Place camp.
Earlier this month, Housing Minister Selina Robinson decried the “frustrating” pace of housing solutions in Maple Ridge, citing “roadblocks” when dealing with the city.
Maple Ridge saw its first modular housing project open last October.
—With files from Sean Boynton