It was a regular sight at Recreation Park, behind the Kelowna Curling Club, as the city’s homeless began their daily routine of packing up their camps on Thursday morning.
“Much as it has been in the past few months, as long as we don’t not have enough beds and shelter space for the need, the city has a legal obligation to provide a space for shelters overnight,” said Darren Caul, City of Kelowna’s director of community safety.
The park is still being used as a temporary overnight shelter site amid the coronavirus pandemic — in fact, city staff say they’ve noticed an increase in the amount of people sleeping outdoors since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We see many more people having to shelter outdoors in our community because our local shelters and correctional facilities have reduced occupancy,” said Caul.
RCMP officer Sgt. Greg Woodcox has been working closely with the homeless population in Kelowna for around 12 years.
He’s typically at the park every morning and despite the campers all converging in one area, Woodcox says he doesn’t fear being exposed to the virus.
Woodcox says although the homeless people are quite aware of the pandemic, physical distancing is difficult to enforce.
“The social distancing is kind of difficult when it’s packed here, because sometimes there are numerous tents and numerous people inside the tents,” said Woodcox.
The city has said the park will continue to be a shelter site until it has adequate shelter spaces, Cull says those spaces are on their way.
“We have nearly over 100 new beds coming in the next few months,” said Caul.
But until then, the city will continue to allow the overnight camp to provide shelter space — even though it’s not ideal, especially given a pandemic and the threat of people bunking in such close quarters.
“Social distancing is definitely a concern for the city, the province and all of our citizens, so our role is to educate people to the best of our ability,” said Caul.
The belief is that with proper education on the virus, the homeless population will be able to protect themselves.