Homeless advocates in Tri-Cities set up tent city, forcing meeting with city officials

A tent city erected on Coquitlam-owned land next to the 3030 Gordon Project homeless shelter in Port Coquitlam Thursday, June 13, 2019. The camp was broken up shortly after it was erected after RCMP descended on the scene. Alliance Against Displacement/Twitter

A tent city meant to house homeless residents of Metro Vancouver’s Tri-Cities region was broken up shortly after it was erected Thursday.

The camp, dubbed the “We Exist Tent City,” was raised after the activists marched through downtown Port Coquitlam to protest what they call the “Tri-Cities model” of police and bylaw officers “harassing homeless people” in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.

“They pretend that there are no homeless people here, which is simply not true,” Alliance Against Displacement spokesperson Isabel Krupp told Global News.

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“The real ‘Tri-Cities model’ is driving homeless people into the bushes, pushing them into alleyways where they overdose because they’re alone and they have no community surround them.”

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The goal of the tent city, Krupp and other organizers said, was to create that community and set up an overdose prevention site (OPS) within the camp.

READ MORE: Activists furious after RCMP break up Maple Ridge overdose prevention site

Tents were erected on land owned by the city of Coquitlam next to the 3030 Gordon Project homeless shelter, which activists say is the only homeless shelter in the Tri-Cities area.

But roughly an hour after the tent city was set up, RCMP officers showed up and said the protesters would be arrested and charged with trespassing if they didn’t disperse.

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Krupp said one person, a grassroots journalist, was arrested after filming police and asking questions about their intentions, but no other homeless or protesters were arrested.

The activists ultimately agreed to take down the tent city after securing a meeting with city officials to voice their concerns, which include calls for more shelters and a sanctioned OPS.

But Krupp said she and other organizers, who have played a role in a controversial tent city that was recently torn down in Maple Ridge, weren’t optimistic the meeting will lead to any government actions.

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“It’s pretty devastating that the only way we can get the attention of the city is to stage a protest like this,” Krupp said.

“I think they’ve made it very clear that they care more about their private property than the lives of homeless people. We’re hopeful this meeting will lead to change, but we’ll likely have to take further actions.”

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Later on Thursday, Alliance Against Displacement said the meeting led to a promise from Coquitlam manager of community planning Andrew Merrill to “do everything in his power to set up another meeting with more powerful representatives from the Tri-Cities and B.C. Housing.”

Coquitlam RCMP Const. John Graham pushed back against claims police and other officials have a mandate to “harass” homeless people, as the activists claim.

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“We know a lot of the people here on a first-name basis, and have good relationships with a lot of these people,” he said. “We understand … the housing situation is a problem here and in other parts of B.C., but we have to do our job, as well.”

The most recent homeless count across Metro Vancouver conducted in 2017 counted 117 people in the Tri-Cities who identify as homeless, making up three per cent of the regional total.

READ MORE: Residents frustrated with growing homeless camp in Richmond call on city to act

The activists suggest there are many more, however, as the volunteers in charge of the count did not explore forested and wilderness areas where homeless people have allegedly been pushed.

Tent cities have become a growing concern in Metro Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.

In the past year alone, camps have been either set up or dismantled in Richmond, Saanich and Nanaimo, in addition to the Anita Place camp in Maple Ridge.