Residents of Kelowna’s Tent City participated in mandatory ‘spring cleaning’ on Thursday, April 13.
Two women who live at the encampment found some lawn chairs amidst the commotion and sat down to speak with Capital News about the “decontamination,” and the realities of unsheltered homelessness in Kelowna.
During the cleaning, which involves garbage disposal, raking, and spraying the gravel at the site, all people and their belongings had to vacate. Anything left behind is discarded. However, during the spring cleaning, the residents were met with more compassion than they have in the past, though their memory of the traumatizing fall “decontamination” is still fresh.
“The last time we had a big cleaning day was just before winter… They came with a backhoe and dump trucks and they took a lot of our belongings, they made us leave the site completely last time so anything you couldn’t carry with you was taken,” said April (name changed), a resident of Tent City since July 2022.
During the spring cleaning, residents were only required to move their belongings to the other side of the path, not completely vacate the area, “but it’s still a hard day for people”, said April.
April explained that many residents suffer from chronic pain and have physical and mental disabilities and require significant amounts of help to clear their sites. Despite advanced notice of the cleanup and the relaxed requirement, many people had their belongings discarded because they were not able to clear the site.
The encampment, located at the intersection of the Rail Trail and Richter Street, is currently home to approximately 150 people but is expected to explode in population as the weather warms up.
“It’s going to get crazy,” said April.
The site provides “temporary overnight housing,” and according to City of Kelowna bylaw regulations, residents are expected to vacate the site daily at 9 a.m., and completely remove all their belongings each Thursday for cleaning.
Over the winter the requirement to move was not enforced due to the cold.
Shelly, who has been living at the encampment intermittently for the past year, said that if the city requires all people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to live together, the site needs sanitation facilities.
“They have to put a shower in, they have to put in water, they have to put in electricity… You can’t step up out of this place without having access to the basics.”
She explained that in order to wash dishes or clothing she has to haul in water, as the tap at the encampment has been out of commission since July.
To access a shower or laundry, residents have to leave the site and go to a day site like Metro, but April said that often the facilities are full and people are turned away.
Additionally, theft at the encampment is prevalent and people cannot leave their belongings unattended, making it difficult to access community resources.
Shelly said that she wants to help create positive change at the encampment before leaving.
She said that in addition to the “decontamination” cleanings done by Bylaw, giving residents access to running water is essential to ensure basic sanitation.