The City of Kamloops is renewing efforts to dismantle daytime homeless encampments along riverbanks and encouraging those in need of shelter to access safer options that are not being used.
During the second quarter of 2020, bylaw officers ceased removing makeshift overnight camps as the municipality relaxed its temporary overnight shelter bylaw, allowing the structures to stay up during the day rather than being required to come down — a move made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were encouraging the individuals that were doing the overnight sheltering to keep their camps clean, small and we would leave them alone,” bylaws services manager Tammy Blundell said.
City of Kamloops community and protective services director Byron McCorkell added that while the relaxed regulation was well received by those spending the nights outdoors, it has yielded complaints from other residents, leading to the renewed crackdown.
Bylaw officers tabulated about 11 problem encampments in recent weeks, McCorkell said.
Blundell told KTW the city has received complaints from neighbourhoods including Schubert Drive in North Kamloops and in Valleyview, where homeless encampments have become a nuisance.
“The encampments are very dirty, there’s lots of garbage — the list goes on,” Blundell said, noting a stipulation allowing the camps to remain untouched included users keeping the areas clean.
McCorkell said when the city relaxed the bylaw in the spring, it didn’t have the resources it currently has in place, but now that it does, bylaws officers are advising people of the spaces available to them at Emerald Centre, The Branch and a 50-bed shelter set up in Memorial Arena, the latter which has not yet been used.
“They don’t need to be on the riverbank, so we’re encouraging them not to be on the riverbank,” McCorkell said.
He said the city isn’t shutting down encampments immediately, but rather going out and informing people of the resources that are available to them, which are safer, especially as winter approaches.
Mayor Ken Christian said when large encampments are set up, criminal activity tends to go along with it, which the municipality is trying to avoid.
“The reality is our shelters aren’t full and yet we have people seeking shelter in doorways and everywhere else, so it’s a question of trying to connect people with services,” Christian said.
Under the city’s temporary overnight shelter bylaw, encampments are permitted to be set up along much of the west bank of the North Thompson River and north bank of the South Thompson River, but must be removed each morning.