The City of Penticton is continuing to actively go after homeless encampments when they pop up, unlike some other communities in the province.
In an update to the Safety and Security Advisory Committee on May 2, director of development services Blake Laven said the city would continue to act on camps when they show up to clear them out and push where possible to get them into shelters and housing.
“There’s not a lot of tolerance for encampments within the municipal boundary, but it’s a real challenge and it takes up a lot of time,” said Laven. “It’s a constant battle, and sometimes it’s like whack-a-mole where you clean up one area and it pops up in another area.”
He said Penticton will not be taking the passive approach to allow homeless camps to become entranched in parks and spaces like Victoria, Maple Ridge, Prince George and Vancouver have.
“Once they’ve become entrenched, people have lived there months at a time or even years and it’s their home and people want to protect their home and they fight to keep those places,” said Laven. “This approach where municipalities tacitly allow [encampments], provide service and monitor them has been a real challenge I think for communities that have embraced that role.”
He also pointed to Kelowna’s approach as a more successful version, where they have allowed for camping on designated parkland that is cleared out every morning and maintained on-site security. He noted that it allows Kelowna’s bylaw and RCMP to be much more strict when it comes to individual homeless campers elsewhere in the community, however it comes at a high cost, including manpower.
“Every morning they’re going in and waking everybody up, clearing everybody out. Then they go in and clear up the site and do it all again starting at night,” said Laven. “I think the latest quote we got was $30,000 a month.”
In addition to cleanliness and potential drug use issues including increased overdoses, Laven also pointed to how encampments can bring a criminal element into play, with some members of such communities having outstanding warrants or having left other communities to find safe haven elsewhere.
Penticton’s large amount of shelter spaces was cited as a reason why the community has not had to deal with a single large tent city like some other municipalities have, as well as the amount of supportive housing that the community has built. When the camps do pop-up, there is a range of services that are called in, and among them are community safety officers who are able to assess the campers and pass along their information to housing services.
“We’ve had a really rapid response from both RCMP and mainly our bylaw team when these encampments get discovered,” said Laven.
Since the Victory Church shelter closed in the downtown, an encampment popped up at Ellis Creek as the homeless population shifted towards the Compass Court shelter near Industrial Avenue and Main Street. Other hot-spots include the camp that has been cleared past the marina on Okanagan Lake. The city is aware of stretches along Highway 97, where jurisdictional issues make clean-up more difficult do to requiring the provincial government’s involvement.
The city also has a family re-unification fund to help those who seek to return to family in other communities as well.
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