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Chilliwack RV encampment cleared to make way for flood protection

Dozens of people were left figuring out their next steps after being evicted from an RV encampment on First Nations-owned land in Chilliwack, B.C., on Thursday.

The property on Island 22 is owned by the Shxwhá:y Village, and is slated to be used for a new dike that will protect the Indigenous community and Chilliwack more broadly.

Last month, the Shxwhá:y Village gave the people living there until Jan. 31 to vacate the property. On Thursday, police, representatives from the city, the First Nation and social services were on hand to enforce the order.

“It’s overwhelming, it’s a lot of emotions,” said Heather Whitford, who has lived on the property with her partner and cat for about two years.

“We knew it was coming, we just didn’t really know what to do, what our next steps were.”

A small number of people began living on the site about seven years ago, but the encampment has recently grown to include as many as 50 people.

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Some have been living in trailers, while others, like Kevin Isaac, have built shelters on the property.

“It was nice at first, until all these guys moved in, because there was only like five or six of us here,” Isaac said.

“Every time we went to sleep somebody new moved in, two or three of them.”

Shxwhá:y Village Chief Robert Gladstone said he was originally unaware that people were living on the property, but ” inside of a year it just exponentially blew up.”

Gladstone said the Shxwhá:y Village is working with the City of Chilliwack and the provincial and federal governments to build a dike through the site, and now needs the land back.

The encampment site itself is to be used as a staging area for gravel and aggregate for the dike.

“We’re trying to clear this, as we’ve said, in the most humane way. We’re human beings, we’re compassionate,” he said.

The Shxwhá:y Village has been working with outreach and BC Housing since June to find people places to go, and has donated $5,000 to a local social support agency to help those who are being displaced.

Upper Fraser Valley RCMP Cpl. Carmen Kiener said police were there to keep the peace.

She said some people living there had already vacated the site, but that dozens of others were being ordered to leave on Thursday.

“It’s not healthy and it’s not safe. There’s no running water, there’s no electricity and there’s no sanitation, so of course we have concerns from a health and safety perspective,” she said.

Encampment residents Global News spoke with Thursday said they didn’t know what they would do next.

“I’ve never been homeless in my life, this is the first time,” Whitford said.

“The rent, trying to get a place right now is extremely hard … Who is going to want to bring in a couple with a cat?”

Isaac said he was considering heading back to Boston Bar, where he lived before Chilliwack.

Gladstone said he hoped to see dike construction begin in the next low-water season.

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