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Free shelter spaces mean no homeless camps planned for Kamloops city parks

Image Credit: FILE PHOTO
July 22, 2020 - 5:30 PM

Although homeless people in Vancouver and Kelowna are able to set up camp in city parks, it won’t be happening in Kamloops at any time soon.

Homeless people have been legally allowed to camp in city spaces in B.C. so long as there are no shelter spaces available, according to a B.C. Supreme Court decision and according to Ty Helgason, the City of Kamloops’ project manager for housing and homelessness, that's not the case right now.

“At this time it’s not something we’re considering (allowing camping in city spaces). We have lots of capacity in our shelter system and we’d like to see people access the shelter system where they’d have meals and full time supports, rather than enabling them to camp in our public spaces,” Helgason says. “We think accessing the shelter is a better option.”

The shelter system may seem like an obvious choice for homeless folks, but Helgason says none of the city’s shelters are at capacity, even though all of them have decreased the number of beds to allow for social distancing. Currently, there are spaces at the Emerald Centre, the Mustard Seed and a temporary shelter at 185 Royal Avenue. There is also an additional space at Memorial Arena that can be used if the other shelters fill up.

“We’re approaching (capacity) more in the most recent couple of weeks. The last reported numbers, out of 40 beds at Emerald we’re seeing about 30. Out of 20 beds at the Mustard Seed we’re seeing about 15, and out of 25 beds at 185 Royal, they’re getting close to 20, so we still have a little bit of room at each of these shelters.”

READ MORE: How those using homeless shelters must adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

The free space at the shelters came as a bit of a surprise, especially due to the high flood season. According to this map, the only places where homeless people are allowed to set up camp in Kamloops is along the river beds, which were flooded through most of the spring. This document states homeless people are not allowed to set up camps on any playgrounds, sports facilities, driveways, parking lots and more owned by the City. 

“When the river came up we were prepared for that and established additional shelter beds. We put the message out there that there wouldn’t be much space available to live outdoors and for people to push into the shelter system,” Helgason says.“We’re not sure if people are accessing the (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) funding in response to COVID or if people are leaving town for the summer or what exactly is going on, but we’re only seeing 20 active camps.”

Although there are 20 active camps and approximately 65 shelter spaces being used, Helgason says it’s hard to know the number of homeless people in the city. A point-in-time count was set to happen in late March, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. Helgason says the most recent data, from 2018, showed there were around 200 homeless individuals in the River City.

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Helgason says local bylaws prevent people from setting up camp on any of the City maintained grounds, which would be an issue if riverbank campers inched upwards to the park grounds.

“We usually do see a bit of a dip in the usage of shelters because people do choose to live outdoors at this time,” Helgason says. “We did anticipate seeing higher numbers because of the river rising, but we didn’t see that.”

Although people are still camping within the city, Helgason says there hasn’t been many negative interactions with bylaw officers because of sites and they are not on City-owned property.

“I think the people that are out there and choosing to live outdoors, (I'm) guessing they appreciate the flexibility we’ve introduced with COVID,” Helgason says. “The bylaw team has reported most campers are keeping their areas pretty tidy and being respectful.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 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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