Two members of the RCMP’s targeted enforcement unit watch as the man (in green) who lived in the motor home in the driveway this Okanagan Avenue property prepares the vehicle to be towed from the site Monday. A community effort to clean up the property began on the weekend and is continuing this week to help the elderly woman who lives in the house. Mark Brett/Western Drive

‘Prisoner’ in her own home freed by strangers

Community rallies to help senior with bylaw order to clean up her property

An 87-year-old woman described as a “prisoner” in her own home has a bunch of strangers to thank for her newfound freedom.

Monday morning under the watchful eyes of two members of the RCMP’s targeted enforcement unit, a small motorhome was towed from the driveway of the Okanagan Avenue house starting a new chapter in the senior’s life.

Ron, who asked his last name not be used and who has close ties to the woman, smiled and breathed a sigh of relief as he photographed the vehicle leaving, something he has wanted to see for a long time.

For the past several years Ron said the elderly woman’s son had been living in the motorhome, most recently with a female companion and a dog, all the while accumulating a massive amount of items of every description which completely filled the small yard and outbuilding.

After many complaints to the city, bylaw services became involved and eventually issued a clean up order which is when the work on the weekend was arranged.

And while numerous truckloads were removed over the two days, much more remains.

“Towards the end she couldn’t even get out of her house to go to a doctor’s appointment,” said Ron, shaking his head at the memories of the turmoil the lady went through while trying to get her son, who was also at the house Monday, to move.

Compounding the problem were the many “unsavoury” characters that began visiting the property at all hours of the day and night.

“The address here has come to our attention just because it’s a gathering place for a lot of people in the city, some of our clients that we deal with on a regular basis are frequenting this address on a regular basis,” said RCMP Cpl. Scott Vanevery at the scene Monday. “We were alerted to it and decided to come out. We’re here today to make sure everyone’s moving along and keep the peace.

“There’s a Facebook group (Penticton Shoplifters and Thieves – Exposed) that’s recognized this property as a problem residence and they wanted something done about and it appears they did a good job.

“It’s a total effort of a community to clean up a property.”

It was on that same Facebook page that Jana Huolt saw a picture of the residence that was called the “KFC house” because of it’s proximity to the nearby restaurant.

“I realized it was the house belonging to the grandmother of a child my husband and I adopted many years ago. We raised her granddaughter as our own child,” said Huolt, who used to live in Penticton and now calls Oliver home.

She then contacted Jake Evans, one of the facilitators of the Facebook group, and the pair came up with a plan of action to begin cleaning up the property which meant moving the motorhome and its occupants to a new location (thought to be on Edmonton Avenue).

“It’s over. The trailer is gone. I spent time with her (home owner) yesterday (Sunday) and I spent time with her on the phone this morning when the tow truck was there and she sounded very upbeat, I could hear the relief in her voice that she can now go outside and enjoy her yard safely,” said Huolt. “I sincerely hope that group of people (the vagrants) knows there is no gathering place there now, there is no junk piles at the home any more. There should be no one on that property. It needs to be a safe haven for the home owner.”

Ron agreed: “She’s had to put up with this for a long time so this is like a weight off her shoulders, she’s free again, she can start living life again.

“She’s so grateful for what everyone has done and she just can’t figure out how to say thank you to everybody in the proper fashion.”

Huolt was amazed of the “overwhelming” support she received after putting out the request on her Facebook page for volunteers for the weekend clean up.

“My chat is just full of messages, people offering to help, coming forward wanting to paint the house, beautify the yard,” she said. “They’ve offered to cook meals, wash windows, they’re just so glad the situation is coming to a close. People like to be a part of something good.

“Even people driving by as we were loading, giving us the thumbs up and hollering out their window, ‘good job, it’s nice to see this being done.’ It is such a wonderful experience. I can’t even find the words to say the empathy that people have for an elderly person in that situation. They’ve just stepped up and I’ve met so many wonderful people from Penticton.”

Chris Kozlowski was one of them.

“I met the person who lives here and she’s a nice lady, she’s had a hard go of it but hopefully things will get better,” he said. “I just wanted to help out, I do that for other people. They call me and I come.”

Meanwhile Huolt plans to continue working through this weekend and still needs a few more volunteers with trucks and others to load and unload the vehicles at the house and at the landfill.

Just how much more work will be done on the property has yet to be determined but there is one thing she wants to happen.

“I would like to see that lady feel safer in her own home, not a prisoner, and I would like to see the home restored to the beautiful flower gardens that it was,” said Huolt. “Someplace where the lady can enjoy her coffee in the morning sunshine.”

Anyone wishing to help can private message Huolt through her Facebook page.

“What’s happened here might be a real eye opener,” she said. “That this can be successfully done if someone else is in a similar situation. There’s nothing like community support if an elderly person needs help. I don’t think it needs to stop at one person, it needs to be ongoing.”