B.C. city apologizes for rousting homeless with chicken manure

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Abbotsford staff spread chicken manure over area used as camp

The practice of rousting the homeless goes back a very long time. They used to be called hobos or tramps. Dig out your high school copy of The Grapes of Wrath to get a feel for how city fathers dealt with "Okies" during the Depression.

We like to think society's become more compassionate, more understanding. They count the homeless regularly in Vancouver, the way you count endangered species.

But people remain, let's say, uneasy about homeless people sleeping in doorways or camping in parks.

Still, the approach officials in Abbotsford, B.C., took to a homeless camp seems particularly retrograde.

City manager George Murray has been forced to apologize after admitting city workers had dumped chicken manure on a piece of land being used as a camp site by homeless people.

"I am deeply sorry for our actions," city manager George Murray wrote in an email obtained by CBC News. "As city manager, I take this situation very seriously and retain full responsibility for the manner in which we dealt with this incident."

[ Related: Abbotsford, B.C., sorry for using manure to drive out homeless ]

Abbotsford, about an hour's drive east of Vancouver, was once a bucolic farming community, but it's now a city of more than 130,000, and it has big-city problems. It's been a hub of drug-related gang activity and the hometown of the notorious Bacon brothers.

The poultry poop tactic came to light via a blog post by homeless advocate James Breckenridge, which was reprinted in an Abbotsford newspaper. It's part of what he called an "ongoing war on the homeless" that includes carting off their belongings and chasing them from location to location.

But the city, apparently tired of the urban campers' persistence in returning to a site near a Salvation Army centre, opted this week to make it uninhabitable.

"I have stood on it, and smelled it, and had a good look at it," Breckenridge told the Vancouver Province after visiting the manure-filled camp.

"From my point of view, it's a new low - using manure, especially chicken manure, in light of bird flu. We had to destroy a million birds in the Fraser Valley because of avian flu."

The city was using chicken manure as a chemical weapon, Breckenridge said.

[ Related: Vancouver's homeless advocate reveals what drove her work ]

"Of more concern is the consequences of the city ignoring the fact that this noxious material was spread across [on] a major thoroughfare used by the homeless," he wrote Wednesday. "As a consequence this material has been being tracked throughout Abbotsford since it was spread."

Abbotsford has embraced a punitive approach to it's homeless problem instead of working to provide affordable housing, he said.

Murray was contrite when the story hit the media.

“The city will be removing the manure from the site and working closely with our community partners and the people impacted over the next few days to collectively resolve this issue," Murray said in his statement, according to The Tyee online news site.

Spreading chicken manure as a homeless deterrent isn't even a new tactic.

The Vancouver suburb of Surrey did the same thing in 2009 on a vacant lot adjacent to a resource centre known as the Front Room used by the homeless.

[ Related: Homeless man challenges Vancouver’s ban on street sleeping ]

"You got all this staff here at the Front Room trying to save lives. They can't even sit out here and talk to the clients, try to guide them to the right place when all that smell is around," Tim Tabor, an advocate for the homeless, told CBC News at the time. "It's just inhuman. How would they like it in their yard?"

Acting Surrey Mayor Barinder Rasode said the move may have originated with city's bylaw officers and the local RCMP.

"A part of our understanding [is] that it may have been the city's law enforcement agency, which are the bylaw officers, in conjunction with maybe a local officer at the [RCMP] office," Rasode told CBC News, adding the manure was removed after complaints were made.