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Volunteers recover lost birth certificate while cleaning Moccasin Flats

Another community clean-up is in the works for April 23

A group of volunteers came together this weekend to clean up debris at Moccasin Flats, recovering a lost birth certificate in the process.

Advocacy group, Together We Stand as well as Uniting Northern Drug-Users Undoing Stigma (UNDU) organized the Saturday community clean up-day alongside residents of the encampment.

Debris has littered Moccasin Flats since last November when the City of Prince George demolished part of the downtown encampment, which for many residents resulted in the loss of personal items like identification, photographs, and in one instance the ashes of loved ones.

After a second B.C. Supreme Court ruling, which allowed the encampment on Lower Patrica Boulevard to remain, the City of Prince George apologized for its actions after it was found to have inflicted serious harm on vulnerable people.

UNDU, which is an Indigenous-led peer-run organization, is now hoping to bring services and supports to people living in Moccasin Flats.

“We did our first clean-up day on Saturday, and prior to this we had a couple of meetings, and at our meetings we had talked about the cleanup and how [the residents] would like to see things happen,” explained Katheryn Cadieux, executive director and founder of UNDU.

“One of them mentioned that they wanted to try and salvage some stuff that was still good like clothes or other things, and maybe have a garage sale and UNDU offered to get them all cleaned and washed up to help organize that.”

Throughout the clean-up, volunteers started separating salvageable items from the debris and found new clothing, gift cards, as well as many trinkets that probably have sentimental or monetary value.

Cadieux said the birth certificate they recovered was buried quite deeply under everything that was demolished.

“One of the peers that works with us, he’s actually a director, noticed there was a birth certificate so we pulled it out and sure enough there was a birth certificate, so we cleaned it up and put that aside along with some other stuff that looked important to people.”

Cadieux explained the birth certificate will be returned to its owner, and everything else they found of value will be put aside until it can be identified.

“We hold regular drug user meetings and we're going to put it out there that some stuff was found and put aside and then if they identify it, we’re going to give it back to them.”

Cadieux said they also separated metal and wood and are hoping to get a bin for scrap metal salvage and any money generated from that would be reinvested in funding the cleanup effort and providing services.

“We are hoping to bring a sense of community down there,” said Cadieux. “It’s not a garbage dump. This is their home.”

She said people are using Moccasin Flats as a garbage dump and dropping off their discarded items like furniture and the people who are residing there are getting the blame for it.

“It might look like is garbage now after the city came in and bulldozed everything and destroyed it at all,” said Cadieux, adding that the volunteers have been careful when sorting through the debris knowing they may come across something important.

 “We put aside the stuff that was salvageable so that we can help them do the garage sale or whatever that looks like or try and return stuff they would want if it’s cleaned up and useable.”

The two groups are planning a second Moccasin Flats community clean-up day on April 23 and are hoping to have more community support.

Cadieux said for the first clean-up they had purchased $10 Tim Horton's gift cards and were handing them out as thank you gifts for people who participated and are hoping to do something similar.

“I think it's really important to say that this is just the beginning and I know I'm pretty sure we're going to find a lot more personal belongings,” added Cadieux.

“Just from talking to people I know they’ve lost the urns of ashes from loved ones, photos of loved ones that they've lost or children that they don't have in their care or who’ve all grown up now from when they were kids. Those are irreplaceable and traumatizing.”