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Major encampment cleanup in Kelowna displaces people experiencing homelessness – Okanagan

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Kyle Clow fell on hard times after an eviction and for several months has been sheltering along the Okanagan Rail Trail near McCurdy Road in Kelowna, B.C.

He said he feels safer in the area than staying at a shelter or sheltering at the so-called tent city near downtown.

“They will steal the shirt off your back when you’re sleeping at night,” Clow told Global News. “So that’s not really an option.”

But now he and a dozen others are being forced to relocate as the city undertakes a massive cleanup of the site.

“The only thing we can do is try to move on,” Clow said. “We’re just moving our stuff to a somewhat safe area for now so we can basically go through everything, get rid of the stuff that we don’t need and then from there trying to come up with a plan to find somewhere where we can be left alone.”

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The cleanup was scheduled to last three days and involved numerous pieces of equipment used to clean about 800 metres along the rail trail.

“There was approximately eight to 10 encampments, full structures, pallet structures, tents, debris, a lot of garbage and it was approximately between 15 and 20 individuals who were residing on site,” said Broc Tracey, community safety advisor for the City of Kelowna.


Click to play video: 'Businesses question new homeless housing units'

Businesses question new homeless housing units


Various agencies have been on-site during the cleanup, including outreach workers, to try and connect those sheltering there with social services.


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“We do understand this is very hard,” Tracey said. “We’re displacing people. We’re trying to do this in the most compassionate, humane way, trying to support them through this process.”

But after several years of the camps growing, Tracey said it was time to take action ahead of the upcoming wildfire season.

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“It’s going to be significant this year and when we have encampments, people who are entrenched, especially near green spaces, the risk of grass fires and wildfires increases,” Tracey said.

Tracey points to a large grass fire in the area in July 2023 as an example.

It’s believed encampment activity led to fast-moving flames that came perilously close to homes above the rail trail.

“That’s kind of what triggered our response this year is that we need to be proactive,” Tracey said. “We need to do as much mitigation as we can to prevent the fire from happening in the first place and spreading.”

In addition to the fire risk, concerns were also being raised about water contamination because Mill Creek runs right through where the encampments were set up.

“All of the debris … there is an increased risk of falling into Mill Creek and eventually ending up in Okanagan Lake or potentially damming it and clogging and causing damage to riparian habitats,” Tracey said.

Clow agreed things at the site have gotten out of hand and that a cleanup is necessary

“A lot of these people have mental illness or whatever, hoarders and stuff, they collect stuff … and then it just accumulates into what it is now,” Clow said.

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But he just wishes he could find a safe place to shelter out of people’s way.

“It’s been an ordeal trying to hide, trying to stay under people’s radars and that,” he said.


Click to play video: 'Tiny homes expected to reduce number of people sheltering outside in Kelowna'

Tiny homes expected to reduce number of people sheltering outside in Kelowna


 

 

 

 

 

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