Residents of Anita Place Tent City were literally waist deep in water on Friday night, as a freak weather event dumped hail and water on downtown Maple Ridge.
“It was a torrential downpour, and after 10 minutes there was about five feet of water and raging river through here,” said one homeless man.
“It was a foot high in this tent,” said another, standing in the warming tent on Saturday morning drinking a donated coffee.
“We had to jump on that table there just to keep out of the ice cold water. Rats were scraping and clawing. Then you had a bunch of looting…”
One young woman described icy cold water filling her tent to above the knees. She screamed for help, but nobody came. Another’s woman’s tent collapsed just after she got out of it.
Even the tents left standing had been in the middle of a “river” just the night before.
Another Anita Place resident stood looking at his damaged tent, full of a wet foam mattress and hailstones and most of his possessions.
“I just raised it about a foot, but I never dreamt anything like this would ever happen. I don’t have anything anymore, everything has been destroyed. It’s just overwhelming.”
He said it is not easy for a homeless person to acquire a new tent.
All residents are left with soaked or damaged tents, bedding, clothing and other possession. Everyone said they did not know what to do next.
They are being offered shelter at the Greg Moore Youth Centre, but many do not want to leave what they might be able to salvage of their belongings at the camp.
Maple Ridge mayoral candidate Mike Morden said a person familiar with the camp reported to him that camp residents were being electrocuted as flooding water hit extension cords. That was about 5 p.m. on Friday. Morden told him to call 9-1-1 and have the fire department shut off the power.
“There’s wiring all over the place that is unsafe,” Morden said of the camp.
He went to Anita Place, and said the fire department responded perfectly. However, this flooding event highlights the unsafe situations that are allowed to exist at the camp. Because of addiction “sensible decision making is not in play,” said Morden.
“There could be loss of life. It is gravely concerning, and it is why I want it shut down,” Morden added.
Fire Chief Howard Exner said firefighters never found an electrocution victim, but said the scenario is “quite believable” given the extension cords that crisscross the camp. They did shut down power to the site.
Exner said many people across Maple Ridge, covering a radius of eight to 10 blocks on either side of 224th Street, had flooding, leaks and other storm-related problems. Firefighters responded to about 20 calls of flooded homes, he said.
But he said the homeless residents were seriously impacted.
“They did get hit hard, especially in that they’re living in tents and in shanty buildings.”
He said emergency responders brought a transit bus to the camp for people to take shelter.
The Greg Moore Youth Centre was flooded, but city employees “went above and beyond,” and prepared it to be used as a homeless shelter for the night, and 44 Anita Place residents signed in there.
Approximately 15-20 people refused to leave the camp, said Exner.
“There’s a strong cohort of people who will not move.”
Emergency social services is working with camp residents, to determine what they need to stay at the camp, be it new tents or dry sleeping bags.The rest will be given emergency shelter, although a decision as to where was not yet made.
“We will be accommodating them somewhere tonight, if they need accommodation or want it,” said the fire chief.
Exner said the fire department’s position is not that the camp should be closed, but as long as it exists, it must be safe for people staying there.
There are shanty buildings going up that are not fire safe, there are other fire hazards, electrical hazards, gasoline cans and propane bottles and other concerns.
“It (the storm fallout) highlights a lot of the concerns we have,” said Exner. “It’s not safe. That’s a concern to me – greatly.”
He noted that modular housing will be available on nearby Royal Crescent in October.
“Hopefully a lot of these people will be able to get more stable housing there,” said Exner.