Why some homeless campers in Kelowna want to be away from Recreation Avenue | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why some homeless campers in Kelowna want to be away from Recreation Avenue

A City of Kelowna bylaw officer tells homeless campers at the foot of Knox Mountain to pack up their tents for the day.
December 19, 2019 - 5:30 PM

Tom is one of a handful of homeless people taking advantage of the fact that the City of Kelowna actually designated two camping spots for those who could not find room in shelters for the winter.

In October, the City allowed homeless people to camp on Leon Avenue but, due to fire risks, closed that down and offered them sites at Recreation Avenue and Knox Mountain. At that time (Nov. 26) no one camped at Knox and most went to Recreation Avenue.

Tom, who would not give his last name, tried Recreation Avenue a few times in the last three weeks but says “it seems like a big party.” So, about a week ago, he set his tent up at Knox Mountain, not wanting to spend any more time at Recreation Avenue.

One night he got back to Recreation Avenue late and his tent was locked in a storage container so he slept in the large warming tent. When he woke up, his pockets had been rifled through and things were stolen.

Despite no smoking signs, people were smoking inside the shelter.

“Kids get there early and eat up all the resources then go home,” he said. “Drug dealers come and, if you say anything, they threaten you.”

After spending time camping on Leon Avenue he noted that he doesn’t recognize many of the people who are now at Recreation Avenue.

Tom claims that a bylaw officer pushed his face into the ground just for sticking his head out of the shelter door and hurt him so badly he could barely move for days. Some of the volunteers who go to the Recreation Avenue camp on a regular basis put him up in a hotel for a few days.

As for other shelters in town, he had nothing good to say about them either.

“They (Gospel Mission) make you feel like a 10-year-old child,” he said, noting they controlled how late you could stay out, when you could shower, etc.

He tried to get into the Cornerstone shelter. One day he was turned away three times because the person doing intakes wasn’t there, only to find, on his third visit, that person wasn’t working that day.

"They don't even acknowledge you," he said.

As recently as yesterday he waited on the street for more than an hour trying to get in but left because he has a shed he needs to clean out and it's a long walk with all his possessions to get there.

“I’m waiting for Metro to open up,” he said, referring to the Welcome Inn emergency shelter scheduled to open at the Metro church as early as Jan. 1. “I hope they have a bed for me there.”

Tom had one of the four or five tents that were set up at Knox Mountain this morning.

When he first pitched his tent about a week ago some neighbours offered him tea. Another passerby insisted he was not allowed to camp there, even though Tom showed him the sign saying he was allowed.

Another camper, who would not give his name, said they had traveled up from the U.S. a few days ago to visit family, only to find they had moved. He liked the waterfront location and the deer walking through but not having to pack up so early.

Every morning the campers in both locations are required to pack up their tents by 9 a.m. and leave the campsites until 7 p.m.

Unlike Recreation Avenue, there are no storage facilities or vans to transport them downtown so they have to take all their possessions with them, often in shopping carts or wagons that they have to push or drag along – always at risk of having things stolen if they’re left anywhere.

Tom stressed that he wants to leave a good impression in the neighbourhood by making sure everyone cleans up their garbage. He would like to be able to give something back to the community, even if it’s just odd jobs for a couple of hours a day.

“I don’t want them to see the worst of us,” he said.

On the other hand, he talked about how stressful it is to pack up every day and have bylaw officers decide what he needs and doesn’t need to carry with him.

“It just wears on you after awhile,” he said. “Someday we’re going to explode.”

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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