Formerly homeless youth in Kamloops calls out 'short-term' solutions | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Formerly homeless youth in Kamloops calls out 'short-term' solutions

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April 24, 2021 - 3:30 PM

Social media and news stories about riverside campsites and abandoned tents in Kamloops prompted Dylan Ginther to speak out about his experiences as a formerly homeless youth.

Ginther, 25, is now a self-published author and filmmaker, and said his life is stable now. But between the ages of 13 and 19, he spent his years living in camps by the river and surfing friends’ couches for a few days when he could.

After one friend finally took him by the hand and led him through the process of finding services and supports to get Ginther back on his feet, he says he’s still adjusting.

“At that age, I was forced to survive and learn to prioritize, but it especially has an effect,” Ginther said. “Everyday sort of blends together and I had no aspirations or goals. I was worried about where I’d get my next burger or what I was going to do for the day.”

READ MORE: Penticton man says camping rough is better than homeless shelter

Sometimes going two to three days without food, Ginther is shocked he managed to consume enough to keep himself going. Food was a higher priority than water, and today he said he can still go without water for days.

“I’m still extremely underweight.”

The biggest reason for encampments, he said, is to cater to a basic need for social connection.

“They help develop that connection that you can’t while on your own. Every time you’re not out there looking for food, you can have a community,” Ginther said.

When he was living in encampments, Ginther spent most of his time behind the former Donut King on the North Shore, now Jamaican Kitchen.

While police would often arrive to order their camps to be disassembled, he couldn’t recall a time when other members of the public would disrupt the camp.

READ MORE: As Kamloops housing market pops, families stuck in the 'middle'

Still, he worries that social media posts denouncing camps could entice a person to “take it the wrong way” and act out, maybe violently.

Earlier this week, city bylaw officers left a notice at what appeared to be an abandoned tent at McArthur Park, and later disassembled it. It had needles inside, but appeared to have been abandoned, according to Mo Perri, community services supervisor.

“The bylaw was relaxed due to COVID, allowing people to pitch tents in some areas (of the city). So yes they’re allowed and they can leave the tent up, but they have to keep it tidy and keep their things inside the tent,” Perri said. “We also spent a full day cleaning up a site at Shubert Drive earlier this week, but some people are still there.”

While bylaws are relaxed, people living in encampments are allowed to set up their tents between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., but they may leave a tent if they are kept tidy, Perri said.

For now, Perri is concerned about the rising water levels from spring run off. He said bylaw enforcement of encampments also includes encouraging people to use shelters available in town, but he acknowledges that there are limitations to using them.

Ginther sees that as a short term solution.

“Many don't learn being told what to do, they learn being shown what’s better for them,” Ginther said.

To him, temporary shelters are focused on safety, but they are lacking in mental health services, which was an important step towards long term housing security.

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“Are we thinking long-term to make this kid a contributing member of society? If they’re thinking temporarily, that’s already a homeless person’s lifestyle,” he said. “I can only use myself as an example. I was kicked out of places, but then I finally had someone pick me up and show me the services that I can use.”

Having outreach workers develop a trusting relationship with people using camps, Ginther said, is a key step towards taking advantage of housing and employment services that are available, something that took him years to find.

He calls it an “inside out” approach.

Bringing outreach work into the field is part of the new Community Service Officer program, Perri said. However, it’s not expected to be fully rolled out until September.

Perri insists, however, that the city is more engaged with the street-entrenched community now.

READ MORE: New management position in Kamloops created to address housing, social services

“We're already better engaged than we were before, but still not where we need to be,” he said.

Until then, the city will be hiring expanded security services to fill the gaps, especially centred around downtown and the North Shore business district.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 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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