Part four of a five-part series on the homeless and how the stigma associated with being homeless directly affects the relationships between authorities, public space and themselves.
People who experience homelessness claim they are assaulted and verbally abused by authorities and even pedestrians.
Harold Smoke, a man with lived experience of homelessness, said it happens almost daily from RCMP and City of Kelowna bylaw officers.
“(Authorities) literally tease them and say, ‘Oh I’m going home to my bed tonight, where are you staying?’ ” said Smoke, who is now housed. “How do you deal with that?”
Kelowna bylaw stated there have been rumours of assaults taking place, but “there (has been) no documented criminal charges ever laid by the police against one of our bylaw officers for assaulting a homeless person,” according to bylaw department manager David Gazely.
Gazely said often bylaw officers are subjected to assault and abuse by people who experience homelessness, citing that officers are often spat at, pushed and had their vehicles damaged.
According to Gazely, officers also have found homemade weapons, bear spray, machetes and axes in shopping carts.
“Everyone is different in their tolerance level and how much they can actually take in terms of what their breaking point may be,” Gazely said.
“I strongly believe that our officers maintain their composure as best they can under the circumstances and only react in a defensive manner if they have reason to believe they are at risk of personal bodily harm.”
Kelowna RCMP did not deny or confirm that physical or verbal assaults do occur.
“If someone has concerns about the manner in which they were treated by any officer of the RCMP, there are complaint processes in place through which they can bring forward their concerns,” stated Kelowna RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey.
However, those who claim to have been assaulted and are experiencing homelessness, often do not bother trying the formal process.
“Who are they going to believe — a homeless person? A homeless drug addict sleeping in a park…possible overdose?” said Jared Charles Dayley, a 24-year-old man who now lives in Cornerstone shelter.
According to those interviewed who experience homelessness, they believe the system is pitted against them and if they were to file a complaint, it would be apt to fail.
This, Dayley claimed, does not only adhere to reporting incidents of assault from authorities; it also includes ordinary citizens.
The idea that Kelowna residents are to blame for harassing people who experience homelessness is something that Cornerstone manager James Smith would agree with, saying it is a bigger issue than people realize and that there are some “pretty scary stories out there.”
“Unfortunately, the way most of society looks at people that are living on the street is that they are second rate,” Smith said.
“So if they are getting beat up by the cops, it doesn’t matter (because) they’re just homeless drug addicts.”
“Some have said they have never been beaten up, spit on and treated so badly,” said Wanda MacKinnon, a member of the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness.
“And it seems to be OK to do that to a homeless person here.”
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
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