The remaining residents of a Surrey tent city say they’re being forcibly removed from the camp, with little to no time to gather their belongings.
Surrey bylaw officers and RCMP moved into the Sanctuary Tent City off King George Boulevard and 112 Avenue earlier this week, pointing dozens of campers to the newly-opened Cove shelter nearby.
The 42-bed shelter is open 24 hours a day every day and provides showers and locking drawers.
While many of the campers took the offer, Dan and Kim — who have been living on the site for more than five years — declined, saying they needed more time to secure storage for their belongings.
On Saturday, they say bylaw officers told them if the couple didn’t leave, the city would bulldoze their campsite.
“You can’t expect someone to just come in and remove everything from five years worth of living here in, what, less than 12 hours?” Kim said. “It’s crap, it’s not right.”
“Just give us a week, and we could do something about it,” he said. “I have a place to stay now, but I need to find somewhere to move my stuff.”
The couple said they’ve been “hounded” for weeks by the city to move out of the camp. While they’ve finally agreed to pack up and leave, they say the stress of the situation has taken a toll.
“We don’t want to cause problems for anybody, and we know we’re going to have to move,” Kim said. “But they’re asking the impossible of us.”
In a statement, the city’s general manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo said 25 of 30 people living in the camp voluntarily agreed to relocate to the Cove shelter, and that no one was “forced” to move from the camp.
“Individuals who chose to relocate to the Cove Shelter were advised and given the time to gather and take their belongings with them,” Costanzo said.
“Materials that were left behind at the encampment would be cleared out by City crews. The individuals who remain at the encampment were advised to move from the private property and relocate to the adjacent City property.”
Saturday saw a rally held in Dan and Kim’s defence by Alliance Against Displacement, who have long argued in favour of tent cities over temporary shelters and other short-term housing solutions for the homeless.
Protesters put up signs reading “this tent is occupied” on empty tents, which the city said they would remove this weekend as it works to clear the site.
According to the advocates, tent cities provide “a sense of community and safety” that can often be lost when campers move into shelters with strangers.
Organizers of the rally said the Cove shelter doesn’t solve the issue of housing for hundreds of other homeless living on Surrey’s streets.
But Dan and Kim said despite the rushed move, they’re willing to follow the city’s orders to “avoid causing trouble.”
“We need to give it a try,” Dan said.
On Friday, the city broke ground on a new supportive housing project that’s due to open in 2020.