Time for the province to help clean up homeless camps near Penticton | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Time for the province to help clean up homeless camps near Penticton

Image Credit: Submitted/City of Penticton
July 26, 2021 - 7:30 AM

Keeping a handle on homeless camps in Penticton is not an easy job but it’s manageable for bylaw officers when it’s within the city.

But campsites in the grey areas along the Okanagan River channel that are often on provincial or Penticton Indian Band lands are becoming a bigger and more expensive challenge for the city.

“The camps in the city that are in our jurisdiction, they are more manageable for us to deal with because we do have bylaws around that,” Tina Mercier, bylaw services manager with the City of Penticton told iNFOnews.ca. “But, when it’s just off the highway, word kind of gets out that it is Crown land or (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) land or (Penticton Indian Band) land and they don’t have the capacity or resources to manage it.”

Mercier will speak to the city’s Safety and Security Advisory Committee on Monday, asking them to push city council to lobby the provincial government to put together their own “clean team” or other resources to help deal with the camps on their lands.

On city-owned land, bylaw officers try to get the campers to pack up each day so the parks can be used by other citizens.

But, if they ignore camps on provincial lands for just a few days, the amount of garbage, drug paraphernalia and human waste builds up.

Image Credit: Submitted/City of Penticton

And some situations, especially with people using propane tanks and lighting fires, can be dangerous.

“A lot of what we do, we definitely have to be front and centre around public safety,” Mercier said. “That’s our priority because we can’t have a propane tank blow up under a bridge and now the infrastructure that’s the access and egress to our city, for example, we don’t have that anymore.”

There’s been a growing number of camps in these areas just outside the city’s boundaries, she said, with four or five having to be dealt with in the last couple of months alone.

Often it’s the same group of people who just relocate. Most are in groups of two to five but there are 10 to 20 “very rough sleepers” in the city during the summer.

“These are ones that don’t fit well in the shelter lifestyle and honestly don’t want to be in the shelter lifestyle,” Mercier said. “They like the freeness of living on their own and having no kind of regulations or rules in place. Their preference is to do what they’re doing, camping on their own.”

But they’re also people with addiction and mental health issues who are being identified in many places as needing “complex care” that really isn’t readily available.

Mercier recognizes that much more needs to be done to provide supports to this population but her department’s job, first and foremost, is public safety.

She’s just hoping that a push from city council will get other jurisdictions to step up and do their share of that basic work on their own lands.

If the safety committee supports Mercier’s recommendation it will likely go to the next city council meeting on Aug. 17.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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