Skip to main content

Eva Barsonnex, right, embraces a fellow tent-camp resident after receiving news that they will be able to remain at the Anita Place encampment in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Nov. 27, 2017.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The City of Maple Ridge and residents of a tent encampment have reached an agreement that will allow the camp to remain open as they work with the province to develop more stable housing.

Lawyers for the city and the camp residents were in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday and agreed to an order involving fire safety at the camp. As part of the agreement, the city adjourned its request for an injunction that would have seen the camp dismantled.

The Anita Place tent city sprang up in May, after Maple Ridge's only low-barrier shelter closed. The encampment houses between 60 and 80 people.

Anna Cooper, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, which is representing the residents, said the fire safety order essentially means residents will "continue to put in their best effort to keep campers safe."

But she said the order is contingent on residents receiving items that will help them in that regard.

"In the past, the fire department would come for a walk through and they would simply tell people, 'You can't have that tarp.' There was no means for the campers to replace the things that they weren't allowed to have. Now the province, through BC Housing, is going to be providing some of those things," Ms. Cooper said in an interview.

"It's just a far more pragmatic arrangement where campers are still being asked to put in their best effort but they're going to have more support in actually meeting the standards that are asked of them."

Ms. Cooper said the city first brought its injunction application soon after the camp opened, and revived it about a month ago. She said Monday's agreement is a sign the situation is moving forward in a collaborative way.

The City of Maple Ridge in a statement said addressing "life safety issues" at the camp drove its decision to resume the injunction process.

By now adjourning its attempt to dismantle the camp, the city said it was giving the province more time to "develop a plan to offer housing solutions for the occupants."

"The City has urged the Province to engage in a public dialogue around possible solutions and that this should be done before site selection. This would allow citizens the opportunity to ask questions they have around housing and health care supports, and neighbourhood impacts," the city said.

BC Housing in a statement wrote the province is "currently identifying housing options for the individuals living at the camp, including temporary modular housing. The primary goal is to house those at the camp and ensure their basic needs are met."

BC Housing added in the meantime it is working with the city and other community partners to provide necessary supports to ensure the health and safety of the campers.

Ms. Cooper said some of the camp residents were at a different tent city in Maple Ridge a few years ago and agreed at the time to move into the low-barrier shelter that has since closed. She said the residents had been told permanent housing would be found but it was not developed amid massive community push-back.

"Anita Place camp formed in reaction to that. It was largely at the beginning a group of people who had already been through this cycle," she said.

Ms. Cooper said the issues raised in Maple Ridge are being faced by communities across Canada.

"The actions that the City of Maple Ridge is taking right now are signs in the right direction, but we across the country have a long way to go in terms of governments, communities properly responding to and supporting homeless encampments," she said.

Interact with The Globe