Major encampment cleanup in Kelowna, B.C. well underway

Piles and piles of garbage were hauled away on Tuesday from Kelown, B.C.’s so-called tent city, as crews are undertaking a major cleanup in area.

Kelowna RCMP, bylaw services, city staff, Interior Health and BC Housing, as well as multiple not-for-profit agencies, were on site to help with the massive multi-day cleanup along the rail trail.

“It really is about maintenance, it is about health and safety of individuals from a general health perspective, from a hygiene perspective, from a fire perspective,” said City of Kelowna Bylaw Services supervisor Nick Bonnett.

“We partner with everyone in the city when we do something like this to be able to offer to everyone that needs the services, what we can, and to make sure they are connected.”

Essentially, residents who are sheltering in the area have been asked to move their tents and belongings from the south side of the encampment to the opposite side.

This is to allow crews to go in and clean up the south side of the encampment before residents are allowed to move back.

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“There’s been verbal, written notice to everyone who uses the space. So, they’ve had the opportunity to go through their things,” said Bonnett.

“Machinery can get in and we can clean, we can rake, and we help individuals get rid of things they don’t need and can dispose of garbage.”

According to Bonnett, the cleanup of the site has triggered a mixed response from those living at the city-designated outdoor sheltering space.

“For the most part, most people invite this activity. We get comments from many individuals who asked for the cleaning. We have regular garbage removal scheduled throughout the week for individuals. It’s something that people generally asked for — that we clean, rake the sites even for everyone to make it easier for people to camp in,” said Bonnett.

“For the most part it has been positive. There are always some who are less interested but as you can see behind me, people are moving and helping them move over.”

Bonnett confirmed that no one was being asked to leave the site. And according to the city, the cleanup is “just a matter of maintenance” that often happens at this time of year.

Under provincial regulations, cities must provide a designated space for people to camp if there is not enough space available in shelters.

“This encampment is here, unfortunately because there is not enough housing in Kelowna, until we have enough supportive, and truly low-income housing for the people who live here,” said community advocate Heather Friesen.

Advocates say there are over 100 people currently living at the city-designated outdoor sheltering site and the population will likely continue to swell.

Friesen added that there are simply not enough services available for the number of people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna, even with the 60 new tiny homes now operating just across the street.

“Sixty people. So that means 57 — if it is full; I honestly don’t know how many people were approved to go into it — shelter beds have been freed up,” said Friesen.

“There are more than 57 people in Kelowna experiencing homelessness.”

The cleanup is expected to take a couple of days to complete, and the rail trail will be closed to public traffic as the work continues.

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