Deadline day for those remaining at Abbotsford’s Lonzo encampment

Abbotsford police once called it the most violent encampment in the city and Monday is the deadline for its final occupants to leave the site.

The Lonzo Road encampment — which is off Sumas Way near Highway 1 — is being cleared so construction can begin on a 50-bed, temporary shelter with 24-hour support services.

Those remaining at the provincially owned property were notified earlier this month they had until June 26 to find somewhere else to live, and Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens says outreach teams have worked hard to build relationships and ensure there is shelter space for everyone being displaced.

“One of the reasons there was a bit of a delay in the [June 13th] announcement was to find appropriate housing,” Siemens told CityNews. “We have outreach teams, the Ministry of Housing was involved in this, as well as a lot of partners in the community, ensuring we were building relationships. We can’t force people into housing, it’s all voluntary.”

But Siemens realizes not everyone remaining at the Lonzo Road encampment wants to go into shelters.

Related Article: Abbotsford encampment to be cleared to make way for 50-person shelter

“We have ensured there are adequate spaces for people to go to — whether it’s space people feel comfortable with is a personal decision, but the Ministry of Housing did not start with cleaning the encampment on the Ministry of Transportation land until we knew there were adequate spaces available.”

Siemens believes the province is doing the best it can in dealing with the Lonzo Road encampment but admits it’s not an ideal situation.

“That encampment had to be cleaned up. It just was not safe. The process that they are using is as reasonable as we can expect under the circumstances,” he said.

“Unfortunately there will be some short-term pain. It is happening in the summer months, thankfully, and hopefully, by the time the real nasty weather hits, we will have some of those temporary shelters in place on that particular site. The sooner we get started, the sooner we will have people in there.”

The Lonzo Road encampment had dwindled to approximately a dozen remaining occupants and about 25 vehicles and RVs, down from about 100 residents at its height when first responders were constantly attending for things like overdoses, fires, crime, and violence.

BC Housing staff, outreach workers, and non-profits will be on hand to support people leaving the property.

Construction of the temporary 50-bed shelter is expected to be completed by late fall and it is anticipated to remain in operation for 18 months while a permanent location is found.

Forced displacement ‘illegal,’ advocates say

In a statement Monday, the BC Civil Liberties Association and Pivot Legal Society are urging the province to stop the eviction of Lonzo.

The groups say that forcefully evicting people from encampments when there are “inadequate” housing options available is illegal.

“In direct contradiction to the commitments set out in Belonging in BC: a collaborative plan to prevent and reduce homelessness, the Province and Minister Kahlon are supportive of the City of Abbotsford in deciding to evict the residents of the Encampment,” the groups said in their statement. “The residents say they have not received offers of alternative housing, and neither the City nor the Province have released any documentation of the availability of shelter or housing to those being evicted.”

The groups go on to explain that forced evictions “inherently violate” residents dignity, and “constitute a violation of domestic and international human rights law, including the right to housing and standards of procedural fairness as articulated in the National Housing Strategy Act and Bamberger v. Vancouver (Board of Parks and Recreation). Moreover, forced evictions are a manifestation of on-going settler-colonialism and legislated poverty.”

“We call on Minister Kahlon and the Province to uphold the promises they have made by ending their support for the impending eviction of the Encampment by the City of Abbotsford and responsibly use its authority to hold municipalities accountable for perpetuating human rights violations,” the groups said.

With files from Hana Mae Nassar

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