Monte Lake resident living in RV unsure if she qualifies for emergency services | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Monte Lake resident living in RV unsure if she qualifies for emergency services

White Rock Lake wildfire reached Monte Lake on Aug. 5, 2021.
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August 07, 2021 - 2:24 PM

The White Rock Lake wildfire ran through the community of Monte Lake this week, displacing residents and leaving many seeking emergency support services through the Thompson Nicola Regional District and the Province.

To be eligible for those services, a person's primary residence must be within the evacuation order area, but what constitutes a primary residence?

Susan Janzen has been living in her trailer in and around Kamloops during summer months for years, and when the winter comes, she finds a traditional rental because it's difficult to maintain life in her trailer in the cold.

The Thompson Nicola Regional District has bylaws against people living in RVs, citing safety concerns. Manufactured homes are subject to housing inspections, for example, but an RV is not.

But for some, like Janzen, the decision to live in a trailer comes out of necessity amid a housing crisis that leaves traditional housing out of reach. Janzen lives alone with her dog, and like every year, she would have been looking for a rental suite as winter begins to approach.

She will have to start looking earlier this year.

READ MORE: Wildfire destroys homes, Monte Lake general store

As the White Rock Lake wildfire spread through Monte Lake Thursday night, the evacuation alerts extended even into Kamloops municipal boundaries. Janzen was in and out of sleep, unsure of the fate coming for her trailer.

On the morning of Aug. 6, the owners of Monte Lake Resort told her the White Rock Lake wildfire had burned through the RV park, likely reducing her trailer to ashes.

"No one pulled out their trailers last night, and I just followed everybody else. I kept saying, 'Oh well if it burns, it burns.' Then when it happens it really hits you," Janzen said.

She removed essential items from her trailer earlier in the week as a precaution when evacuation alerts came to Monte Lake. She also has a friend to stay with now that the wildfire has likely burned her home, but she's been hesitant to apply for any other assistance by registering with Emergency Support Services because of bylaws against RVs.

"You feel like they're shutting you down in a sense because you can't go anywhere. As soon as they found out you're staying in your trailer, they're all up in arms about it, but there's no affordable places to go to," Janzen said.

Emergency Support Services is a program funded by the province, but administered by local and regional governments. Residents under evacuation orders are encouraged to register regardless of their needs, partly to ensure everyone is accounted for and not missing.

If a resident needs support, the service is there to help them find accommodation or offer financial compensation if an evacuee is staying at a friend's house. The service also offers other essentials like toothbrushes or clothes.

However, living in an RV can be a grey area in terms of defining a "primary residence."

READ MORE: Amid rising rental costs, these Kamloops families go nomadic

According to Emergency Management B.C., a primary residence is "the dwelling where an individual or family spends most of their personal time. A person can only have one primary residence at any time."

"They're not going to be turned away from getting supports, and it's not something we're unaware of," Michelle Nordstrom, communications manager for the regional district, said. "Technically, I think, if somebody is in violation of a bylaw, but they are on a property in an RV and it's primary, I believe they'll be eligible."

While she was unsure exactly how emergency services would apply for someone living in an RV, especially someone like Janzen who lives at an RV park with no other primary residence, she said it's best for those people to still register.

Nordstrom added that, while not common, there are instances where people who are visiting an area may attempt to apply for emergency services after finding themselves evacuated from a campsite, for example. Tourists and visitors are denied supports and advised to return home.

Emergency Services B.C. did not specify exactly how Janzen's situation would apply, but did offer a statement clarifying the definition of a principal residence.

"A principal residence is the place where an individual lives for a longer period in the calendar year than any other place. If a person owns more than one home, they can't designate which one is their principal residence. Their principal residence is where they live and conduct their daily affairs, like paying bills and receiving mail, and it's generally the residence used in government records for things like income tax, Medical Services Plan, driver's licence and vehicle registration," a statement from Emergency Management B.C. reads.

"Individuals who have been impacted by wildfires are encouraged to contact their insurance representative. Standard home and business insurance policies cover fire damage and additional living expenses – for things like food, shelter and clothing – if residents need to leave their homes because of a mandatory evacuation order issued by civil authorities."

READ MORE: ‘Firefighters very nearly paid with their lives:’ Minister urges residents to follow evacuation orders

Janzen isn't sure if she'll register for emergency services because she didn't receive her mail in Monte Lake anyway, which would have tied her to that address. She also feels that she'll get by if she needs to without even registering at all.

However, she does believe it's still a government responsibility to offer support to residents in emergency situations, even if they don't live in traditional housing situations.

"If it's happening more and more with people living in their trailers, what then? It should still be a government responsibility. If you resort to live on the streets, or you can't afford to rent then you live in a trailer... it all boils down to affordable housing," she said.

While the White Rock Lake wildfire continues to burn, Janzen will soon start her insurance process like many others affected by the wildfire. She's grateful that she evacuated safely and has a place to stay with her dog, Molly.

"I know everything is going to be okay," Janzen said. "It's just material things."

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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