PIB man offering cheap campsites during housing crisis

Even a local nonprofit made use of a few spots at Lavern Jack’s campground this summer

Lavern Jack is living up to his Syilx name, Somtitsa — a word he said means “very nice man.”

As families struggle to find appropriate and affordable housing, Jack has been offering spaces at his campsite on Penticton Indian Band land for monthly deals.

Jack said he had several people come to him this summer looking for a place to stay.

Related: City must ‘atone’ for its part in housing crisis: city planner

“All through the summer, I had quite a few. A lot of them wanted to camp here to wait until the winter rate went down, so they could find something affordable,” Jack said. “Most of the stuff all through the summer was like $800-900 for a one bedroom, and then it went up from there, and they couldn’t afford that.”

Among those looking for a spot, he said the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society has used his campsite for three or four people — including one group of two and one single person — while they searched for something more permanent.

“The last person that they brought to me, they got him a place to stay, and then they said, if we need your help, we’ll come and we’ll bring somebody out,” he said.

He said SOSBIS was paying the rent for those people.

Related: The people of Carmi hill

Jack typically only offers a daily rate, but he said people couldn’t afford to spend a full month at his daily rate.

“So I said, this is what I’ll do for you: I’ll do it by the month,” he said.

Jack said this is the first year he’s seen people coming to him as a solution — temporary or otherwise — for their housing issues.

“It never came up in the past; it just came up this year,” he said. “The other campgrounds, during the summer, they charge by the day, and there’s no monthly rental.”

Jack said one couple is still living on the campground, as they still haven’t managed to find a place.

“They might stay all winter, because they can’t afford to rent any houses, because the housing, the lowest one was $1,700 a month,” he said, referring to a two-bedroom rate.

In the past week, the Western News has spoken to two families who have had to camp out in the past, or continue to camp out in lieu of a bricks and mortar home. One of those families is still camping out in the Carmi hill area, while another family has found a home in Peachland.

In fact, the latter family said they camped out at Jack’s campground along Green Mountain Road, about a kilometre from the Okanagan River Channel.

Related: Moving forward from Highland Motel fire

Jack said he remembered Penny Brown-Alvord, who spoke earlier this week about her experience looking for housing. He said he rented the family an RV spot for their trailer and tent.

“They got sewer, water, washrooms, free Wi-Fi, free water, washrooms and 24-hour security,” Jack said, noting he also runs XR Homeland Security.

But Brown-Alvord wasn’t the only family to take advantage of his campground.

“There were some ladies from Saskatchewan that were working out here and they didn’t have no place to stay, they couldn’t afford nothing,” Jack said. “They rented by the month, $400 a month for their tents.”

Related: Super 8 getting more than social housing

Jack said he was trying to live up to the name his father gave him, Somtitsa, adding that he was happy to help people who were in need, because he felt that would come back around to him.

In fact, one couple who rented from him said he didn’t know what to do with it. Though it was in need of a fix-up, Jack said he was happy to renovate it and rent it out next summer.

“People come here sometimes without tents,” he said. “I have about three or four tents. I just say, ‘well, here. I’ll loan you a tent, you pay me the rent.’”

Related: Super 8 social housing gets easy pass in public hearing


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