KAMLOOPS – Calls to bylaws about homeless camps have more than doubled since 2013 and the issue has become a sore spot for an Ask Wellness staff member who says the process and costs of camp teardown is flawed.
“The way we handle homeless camps I think is absolutely ridiculous and it probably costs the city a fortune because there’s no solution,” Ken Salter says. “They tracked one guy for a year, and this was a few years ago, and I believe the total came to $42,000 for the year just to move that one guy.”
The cost for camp teardown has increased from $15,000 to $23,000 in the last year, according to Shawn Cook, a supervisor at the city’s parks department. But Salter says increased cost also comes from paying city employees to facilitate a teardown, which requires two bylaw officers and one RCMP member.
Kamloops’ bylaw department responded to a total of 306 complaints and calls for service in 2014, a 112% increase over the 144 calls the year before. Salter says with continual complaints, the camp removal costs will continue to add up and the problem won't go away.
"It's like a cat chasing its tail," he says.
Salter says the issue is not more people coming to town. He's participated in the homeless count for the last seven years and each year the count totalled around 100. He says the amount of complaints from the public to bylaw officers end up forcing the same people to continually pack up and move only to be told to move again.
“They’ll say, ‘okay we’ll move – where do we move to?’ and there’s no answer for that,” Salter says. “There’s just no end to it and I think it’s a colossal waste of money.”
John Ramsay, a supervisor from the city's bylaw department, says law requires a 24-hour notice for transients to pack up and move their camps before the city’s park department pays Ask Wellness to tear it down.
If a teardown is required, bylaw staff will take personal items and store them for a set period so the owner can retrieve them.
Salter says he may have a solution if city councillors are willing to listen. Previously, Salter presented a concept to use a city park space as an open campground - which he dubbed 'the last resort' - for the homeless, supervised by Ask Wellness staff.
“We were asking the city for permission to set up the camp and they turned me down because of liability issues,” Salter says adding he thought it would have been permitted based on previous camps allowed in the city.
In the 1970s, Salter says there was the 'Kool-Aid Hostel' which had three tents set up for male and female transients along with their families.
“There were no liability issues then,” he adds.
He plans to present the case to city council again this year but doubts Ask Wellness will be able to afford the same resources it would need.
“It’ll be a real stretch but I’m going to be talking to the city councillors this year,” he says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
— This story was updated at 4:31 p.m., Feb. 10 to correct the amount of notice required.