The City of Kelowna initiated a cleanup at Kelowna’s homeless camp along the rail trail on Tuesday.
In an interview with Global News, the city said it was necessary as the site has grown substantially, along with potential fire risks.
On scene at the cleanup were many police officers, firefighters and bylaw officers. The camp, which has between 90 and 130 residents, is the city’s only designated temporary outdoor sheltering site.
“As the camps themselves grow and grow and grow, the risk for fire and life safety actually exponentially increases,” said Kelowna bylaw services manager Kevin Mead.
During recent winters, local officials have warned those who shelter outside of tent fires as temperatures drop.
Mead said there have been occasions “when fires do happen in tents, and particularly tents that are grouped together, some real significant harm can come to people.”
On Tuesday, the city said it hauled away extraneous materials that weren’t needed or required.
“There’s a lot of clutter, so if they don’t keep it up, it’ll just be piles of bikes and whatnot,” said resident Norm Thomson.
The camp is still open despite unfounded concerns from residents that the city was closing it. However, the ends of the camp were blocked to prevent the public from entering it during the cleanup.
Mead said he wasn’t sure where the miscommunication came from, “but the intent of the closure was really just to close this section of the Rail Trail while we’re conducting operations over the course of the next few days.”
The city says some mattresses or other upholstered items are being removed because they are soiled and unsafe.
“Every reasonable effort is made to come to an agreement on what is a belonging, per se,” said Mead, “or what is really something that doesn’t belong from a health and safety perspective.”
Still, the cleanup is causing some concern for the camp’s residents, with some telling Global News they fear they’ll lose their belongings.
“We have a bed. They deem that unnecessary because they say it’s a household thing,” resident Debbie Houghtaling said.
“So I think it’s ludicrous. They are deciding what we can and can’t have to survive out here.”
The city says the cleanup is expected to last up to three days, and that once it’s done, there will be some new rules that camp residents will have to abide by.
That includes keeping tents from joining together, with tents having to be spaced out at least 10 feet apart. Also, tarps will only be allowed in some instances.
Mead said the new rules will prevent possible fires from “jumping from tent to tent to tent, where, as you can see right now, it’s relatively compressed.”