"I AM EXTREMELY ANGRY WITH THE CITY AND HOW THEY'VE DEALT WITH THINGS."
ENDERBY - Zhao Walker, a 25-year-old artist who hitchhiked to the area four years ago, is one of the people who lived in the back of the Gypsy Bazaar in Enderby before the city evicted them.
For years, he helped run the shop, which sells wares by local artists, and has lived on and off in the communal living space behind the storefront. Over the past four months, his wife and four kids also called the building home.
“In average society, you tend to move into your own house and you have your own space. Here, no matter what… you’re going to run into people. We’re pretty open. It’s loving and it’s nurturing. It’s a choice thing; there’s a lot of ways to live.”
Two days after the city issued a do not occupy order, tenants have been allowed back into the building. They can’t stay, but they can finally collect their belongings. When city officials, the fire department and local police showed up in the early afternoon of Feb. 18, residents were told they could come back in the next day, during regular business hours, to pick up their things. But a sudden police investigation into a suspected chemical drug lab changed that. A police watch was set up outside the building, and no one was allowed in until the afternoon of Feb. 20, after HAZMAT teams from Vancouver concluded their visit. During that time, Walker was unable to return to feed his cats, collect things for his kids, or retrieve other valued possessions.
His family was put up in a local motel room—cramped he says, for the six of them and their dog. Others were forced to seek refuge at the homeless shelter in Vernon. He admits the place was getting too crowded, but the Gypsy Bazaar was always an open door to people in need.
“If you look in the Enderby classified ads, there’s not really other options, especially for people on income assistance,” he says.
Tenants pay between $300-$400, depending on which room they are renting out. The boarding portion of the building consists of several private rooms, and a shared kitchen, bathroom and dining room. Walker has a healing room filled with crystals and music equipment, items he says are his livelihood. The hallways connecting the rooms are covered in words and drawings—a canvas for the small community living there. Walker calls it a hub of creativity and art. The space is in disarray, but he says it’s not usually so messy. Doorknobs are broken where police forced their way in, dirt speckles the floor, and litter boxes for the cats haven’t been cleaned out in days.
Walker doesn’t have much to say about the investigation into the suspected drug lab, only that he knew all the tenants, and “no one in this building was doing something dangerous for anyone else living here” and “nobody has been pegged for whatever they were investigating.”
In the last year, he says there have been five building inspections, each one ending with a list of things that needed to be changed. He expected the same thing to happen after a Feb. 4 inspection.
“Instead, they stormed in here giving everyone this notice of eviction,” Walker says. “I am extremely angry with the city and how they’ve dealt with things. I can understand where they’re coming from, but the way they went about it is just not fair.”
He says the right thing to do would have been to give tenants more notice to pack and find other living arrangements. The building owner, who was not available for comment, would need to make substantial changes—and rezone the property—if the property was ever to be used residentially again. Walker isn’t counting on that. He’s packing his family’s things, and thinking about getting a big enough house to share with some of the friends they’ve made here.
“I just wish that whatever happens in this next while, that this place can continue to happen and transform into something instead of shutting down,” Walker says.
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