Concerns rise as downtown Penticton tent camp grows | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Concerns rise as downtown Penticton tent camp grows

Homeless campers wait out the day with tents packed up at a city park bordered by Main Street, Preston Avenue and the Kettle Valley rail trail this afternoon, July 24, 2019.
July 24, 2019 - 6:30 PM

PENTICTON - Some residents and businesses surrounding a new tent camp on Penticton’s Main Street are expressing concerns after nearly a week at the location.

The homeless camp is located in a city park bordered by Main Street, Preston Avenue and the Kettle Valley Rail trail, in an area of mixed residential, commercial and industrial use.

Across the street at The Gym, manager Ty Mack says the camp started around Thursday or Friday last week, with six people, and has grown since then.

He's reluctant to speak about it, but Mack said he's concerned about his business and crime being so close. He said he spoke to police and the City or Penticton about it, and was hopeful the city’s bylaw department would handle it.

“The fire department makes daily rounds picking up needles. It’s what happens when someone is high that concerns me - their decision making is altered,” Mack says.

A worker at the industrial complex next to the park at 1101 Main Street, who declined to name himself, shares those concerns.

“I’m finding needles around the building every morning. I have to go around with a sharps container and pick them up. I’m now paying extra for security. I’m not stoked about it,” he said.

A neighbourhood resident using the rail trail alongside the park, who would only identify himself as “Zygy,” said he didn’t care about the camp, saying, “They’re people looking for a place to stay.”

“I hope I’m never homeless. They mostly don’t bother me,” he said.

But at Sun Village retirement residence at 1147 Main St., service worker Sherri Patterson says seniors there are already altering their routines.

“They’re young kids. The seniors are worried, especially about having their purses taken and losing their keys. They won’t be able to ward them off,” she says.

The campers already regularly walk through the property. Patterson says she hopes they find a place to go. 

“Several of the residents say they like to take a walk in the evening but now fear for their safety. None of them want to see people tweaking out, or cursing and swearing,” she says. “There are a few bad apples, but some have been very polite.”

This afternoon in the park, campers had taken down their tents for the day and were mostly sitting in the shade of a couple of trees.

Penticton RCMP patrolled the park around mid-afternoon.

Superintendent Ted De Jager said in an email police are supporting city bylaw officials, who are taking the lead on this particular issue. De Jager said if there is evidence of criminal behaviour or dangerous activity, witnessed by bylaw or members of the community, police should be contacted. 

The City's bylaw department said it would respond to the issue today, but hadn't by publication time. 

Camper Sylvain Demers appears to claim some credit for the camp. He's articulate and offers to speak on their behalf, saying many of them were simply tenting while trying to find work, though he's one of the specific reasons people are concerned. Demers is facing trial for manslaughter for an incident that took place on April 26, 2017. He says the concerns are unfounded and volunteered his defence to the charge.

"I’m up on manslaughter charges, as everybody knows. I was defending my family in my home when a guy came in with knives embedded in his gloves. He was also a friend of mine. He left and came back to the residence with the same attitude. When it comes down to it, it was self defence,” Demers said today, July 24.

While his personal circumstances might be on the extreme end, he says many of the people camping there have issues or they wouldn't need to be there. 

"There are a few people here that do have addiction problems, I’ve been one but I’ve cleaned up my act. My wife is working on her first month (clean), she’s doing well, and that’s what we’re kind of trying to do here. They can get advice from me. I talked to kids last night, who had stolen something. I told them to return it and they have,” he says. He is working three days a week, he says, and he and others are looking for support from their own community.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve, a stationary place where we can leave our stuff all day unsupervised so it’s a start. We’d be happy to sit up in the hobo trails (the Esplanade) if we didn’t get pushed out of there. It’s out of sight and out of mind, and frankly, I don’t want to piss the public off anymore,” he said.

“We’re not all bad people, and we don’t deserve that stigma of being painted with the same brush. Penticton is famous for it,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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