Homeless in Vancouver: CN Rail caught putting homeless between a rock and a hard place

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      On November 7 at least two homeless people were evicted from their encampment on a tiny patch of waste land alongside an unnamed, foot and bike path on the south side of the 700 block of Terminal Avenue.

      At 3:16 p.m. my friend Francis watched and photographed as a front-end loader operator methodically deposited boulders on the bed of gravel that had been spread over the small triangular patch that had served as the pair’s makeshift home for something like five months.

      At the same time, a woman could been seen a few metres east, standing among the jumbled pile of possessions she and a man had rescued hours earlier, before workers (abetted by CN police) had stepped in and dismantled the campsite.

      It’s CN Rail’s world—the homeless are just living in it

      Homeless woman standing by fence on north side of CN Rail’s main yard, among all the possessions she and a friend rescued from their dismantled campsite a few metres east.
      Francis Mathers

      Francis arrived too late to see the homeless eviction in progress but he watched the aftermath.

      And he had a chance to speak with the operator of the front-end loader, who indicated that the boulders he was covering the former campsite with were just the beginning—there was another homeless encampment to be dealt with farther east, beside  Glen Drive.

      Francis also spoke briefly with one of the homeless men who had been living in the tiny camp in the 700 block.

      “Lots of CN cops ousted us,” was about all the stunned fellow had to say.

      The homeless camp behind the 700 block of Terminal Ave. and the predicted line of concrete blocks on Glen Drive.

      The proximity of the makeshift homeless campsite to CN Rail property—40 metres north of the east-west tracks of CN Rail’s main yard, at 1402 Station Street—obviously made it a constant thorn in the company’s side.

      And it hadn’t apparently helped that the camp was also only some 200 metres away from the Rocky Mountaineer station, located at 1755 Cotrell Street.

      “We’re spending $600 a night on security for all the crazies running around the Rocky Mountaineer Station,” Francis recalled the operator of the front-end loader explaining to him—effectively pinning credit for the eviction on CN Rail.

      According to Francis the small campsite had been tidy in appearance—both well-made and maintained—durably constructed, using tarps and ladders and with its own generator and even a little “keep out” sign.

      “We took a lot of good stuff out of there, the front-end loader operator volunteered, “ladders, propane….”

      I contacted CN Rail on November 12 regarding its actions on November 7 to break up the small homeless camp in the 700 block beside the CN Rail main yard. I also asked about the "eviction notice” given by CN police the same day to another homeless camp near the Burlington Northern tracks, off Glen Drive. And I supplied CN Rail with a link to this blog post.

      Here is CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis’s November 15 email reply to me in full:

      “We take our responsibility regarding rail safety to heart. CN has long been concerned about the safety of these individuals being so close to the tracks. CN Police visited the camp several times to speak with the residents over several weeks and the occupants were given sufficient notice to make alternate arrangements well in advance.”

      I asked the CN spokesperson if he could clarify his use of “camp” in the singular; if CN Rail owns the land under the evicted camp(s) and if CN Rail could confirm or deny reports that it plans to build a wall to block homeless people from camping on the slope beside Glen Drive.

      Abecassis replied to the effect that CN Rail declined to comment further.

      According to Government of Canada online documentation regarding railroad proximity issues: “CN and CP railway police enforce federal laws on railway property and within 500 metres of that property.”

      Is a Trump-style anti-homeless wall coming to Glen Drive?

      The view of Glen Drive at 9:36 a.m., Sunday, showing the east edge of the chain-linked CN Rail yard and the homeless camp on the slope beside the Burlington Northern Railroad tracks.
      Francis Mathers

      The other thing that the operator told Francis on Wednesday was that a wall of interlocking concrete blocks was to be laid along the east side of Glen Drive—very soon.

      Francis was given no indication of how many courses of blocks, or how high, this wall would be but he was told that it was to deter the homeless people camping on the east side of Glen Drive, beside the Burlington Northern Railroad tracks—also apparently CN Rail’s responsibility.

      Looking past the boulders, a stack of interlocking concrete blocks can be seen sitting in CP Rail’s main yard on Sunday.
      Francis Mathers

      By my very rough calculations, a line of interlocking, Lego-style concrete blocks along the south side of Glen Drive—from the overpass to the bend of Evans Street—would require about 102 of the 1.5 metre-long blocks. At $60 per block, that would work out to $6,120 for each course of blocks—before taxes.

      The view east from the now boulder-dashed homeless campsite, showing the CN Rail main yard on the right and one of the boulders beside the path
      Francis Mathers

      What the operator didn’t tell Francis was that he would be spreading more boulders farther east.

      Four days later, on Sunday (November 11), there was a line of boulders generously distributed east of the former homeless campsite, on the ribbon of waste ground running along the south side of the bike and foot path.

      More boulders seen Sunday, running east alongside the bike and foot path.
      Francis Mathers

      Monday morning the homeless campers on the east slope of Glen Drive told Francis that they had been ordered to clear out already by two CN police on the previous Wednesday—when two of the RVs parked on Glen Drive were also towed.

      There was no deadline given to the homeless campers, no official written notice, no paperwork of any sort. And no evidence that any of the City of Vancouver’s homeless outreach workers were in attendance. Just CN police delivering a matter-of-fact order to clear out, ASAP, which several of the homeless campers have already done.

      The remaining homeless campers living in beauty on the slope beside Glenn Drive on Monday morning.
      Francis Mathers

      On Tuesday (November 13), Francis again spoke to the same operator, whom he found spreading a few more boulders, this time west of the former homeless campsite in the 700 block.

      Where were all the boulders coming from, Francis asked. From Squamish, the operator explained.

      And the wall of interlocking concrete blocks along Glen Drive?

      That was coming “any day now”, Francis was told. CN was buying the blocks.

      “See you tomorrow,” said the operator, cheerfully.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.