VERNON - After first saying it wouldn’t touch a homeless camp at the vacant Kin Race Track barns, the City of Vernon has now taken steps to close it down due to safety concerns.
Last fall, campers began making use of the horse stalls, which remain empty and unused as the city and the Okanagan Equestrian Society fight a legal battle over the use of the property. In January 2016, the city said it was the society’s responsibility, as the lessee of the property, to address such issues. The society, on the other hand, put the responsibility back on the city.
Today, you won’t find much evidence of a camp at the stables. At night, you’ll find a security company patrolling the grounds instead of people sleeping in the barns. That’s because as of March 14, the city began closing down the camp.
“Basically, there were so many public safety concerns occurring there that we felt we couldn’t let the occupation continue,” Clint Kanester, the city’s manager of protective services, says. “There were all kinds of needles being found, and there some thefts going on in some of the surrounding neighbourhoods we were receiving complaints about.”
Propane tanks, heaters and a considerable amount of rubbish material was also found. An estimated five to seven people were regularly staying at the camp, but some days up to a dozen individuals could be found there, Kanester says.
People were given two weeks notice to remove their possessions from the site and efforts were made to connect them with housing, he says.
“We had social agencies visit the sites and offer services to them,” Kanester says. “We tried to make sure people had whatever options available, hopefully something better than living in a horse barn.”
The RCMP was involved in the closure, and while some individuals were arrested on warrants, he says the removal was mostly peaceful.
“The majority of people moved on and had other accommodation,” Kanester says.
To prevent people from returning to the site, Kanester says the stall gates were all removed, though they can be replaced in the future if the facility is again used for horses.
Between significant dump fees and staff hours, Kanester says it cost about $15,000 to remove the camp.
Kin Race Track isn’t the only place people are camping out in Vernon. A recent homeless count found 13 people living outside in various areas of the city. The camp at the race track was, however, one of the larger camps the city has seen recently.
“We don’t normally see anything that big,” Kanester says.
Vernon council has been vocal about the issue of homelessness in the community, and intends to work with local agencies to lobby senior levels of government for increased funding.
The Okanagan Equestrian Society, for its part, says it was not informed about the city’s intentions to close down the camp.
“We’ve not had any contact with the city regarding this issue whatsoever,” president Robyn Dalziel says. “We clearly said to the city ‘this has nothing to do with us’ so I don’t see why they would contact us.”
Dalziel says talks with the city about resolving a years-long dispute over the race track remain at a standstill.
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