ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The use of chicken manure in an effort to deter a homeless encampment is now causing a stink of another kind for officials in Abbotsford, B.C.
Several homeless people plan to launch lawsuits with the help of a social advocacy lawyer, claiming compensation after their property was lost or damaged when the excrement was spread over their camp site and in another incident where city police officers are accused of damaging tents and pepper-spraying belongings.
“We’ve tried to sit around and talk and we’ve tried to ask and nothing’s happening and we’re sick and tired of waiting and obviously, they need a kick in the (butt) to get moving and that’s what we’re doing,” Doug Smith, who plans to file a small claims lawsuit for the destruction of his tent, said in an interview Wednesday.
He and others also plan to file a human rights complaint for their treatment.
Last month, the Fraser Valley city’s manager took responsibility and the mayor apologized after city workers spread chicken manure over an area near the Salvation Army office where a tent encampment had sprung up.
Residents had been complaining about the behaviour of homeless people in the area, with one woman saying she had become a prisoner in her own home because homeless people were sleeping on her lawn and using her yard as a latrine.
In a separate incident, also last month, Abbotsford’s police chief asked the province’s police watchdog to investigate allegations that officers pepper sprayed homeless residents and damaged their tents.
Smith was not in the area where the chicken manure was dumped, but he said he is among those who had their tents damaged or destroyed by police.
“If you were at home and the cops came to your place and knocked on the door and you didn’t answer, there’s no way in hell that they would kick your door open and come in say ’We had to do that just to see if you’re in there.’ But they can cut my tent open and do that kind of stuff to me, why, because I don’t have a house? It’s still my home.”
Chief Const. Bob Rich has asked the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to investigate. The department said it does not authorize or approve of its officers damaging personal property.
Smith said he once worked as a drywaller making $40 per hour and supervised other employees. But a nerve disease disabled him, leaving him unable to work even as a cook, which he always thought he could fall back on if he had to.
He said he’s been without a home for two years and hasn’t been spurred into social activism until now.
“What, did you forget that we’re people. These guys, it’s their worst time of their lives, they’re down to their lowest and you’re going to kick them and you’re not going to give them a hand? We don’t want a hand out. A hand up would be great.”
Lawyer D.J. Larkin, with the Pivot Legal Society, is filing the small claims lawsuits on behalf of the residents who say they lost property in the two incidents.
She will also take on the human rights complaint.
Larkin said other B.C. cities have used the manure tactic in the past to encourage homeless campers to move on, notably Surrey in 2009 and Port Coquitlam shortly after the Abbotsford incident.
“We’ll try to get damages for, basically, the city behaving badly,” she said.
Cities need to be forced to realize they need to deal with homeless issues differently: “Take people where they’re at and help them improve their lives in whatever way they need right now. Just simply saying right now ’I don’t like it, I’d like people to move along,’ doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t make it go away.”
A spokesperson for the City of Abbotsford could not be reached for comment.
— By Wendy Cox in Vancouver