The City of Kamloops is planning to close The Loop drop-in centre in North Kamloops.
The decision comes on the heels of an altercation at the centre on Thursday morning (July 22) involving a group of people, with a community services (bylaws) officer trying to keep the peace.
The drop-in centre at Tranquille Road and Mackenzie Avenue has served as a space for the homeless to congregate and get water and meals, but has been the subject of numerous complaints related to people congregating, drug use and garbage left behind.
In May the City of Kamloops deemed the address a nuisance property.
City of Kamloops social, housing and community development manager Carmin Mazzotta told KTW that prior to the Thursday incident, the city opted to not allocate federal funding it administers to The Loop.
Glenn Hilke of The Loop previously told KTW the drop-in centre would have to cut services as it applied for $188,000 in funding, but was only going to receive $38,000.
Mazzotta said those comments were premature and that the city was still in the process of a due diligence review.
He said the decision to not issue the $38,000 in funding to The Loop for the next four months was made because they have been deemed a nuisance property under the city’s good neighbour bylaw and has been the subject of various RCMP, community services and third- party security reports, among other reported concerns.
According to guests and volunteers at The Loop who spoke to KTW just after 9 a.m. on Thursday, a man walked onto the property with a baseball bat and threatened people. He also apparently engaged in a physical altercation with people outside.
A video of the incident is circulating on social media showing one man engaging in a physical altercation with others while being held back by a community services officer. No baseball bat can be seen in the video.
Mazzotta confirmed Thursday morning the incident is being investigated and more corrective actions may be taken, but could not speak to possible enforcement actions the city is taking.
“Definitely [it’s a] very concerning situation and we will take this seriously,” Mazzotta said.
A source told KTW early Thursday morning the city would be closing The Loop and Mayor Ken Christian was later quoted by the CBC as saying the same. KTW contacted Christian to confirm that news and was told he was busy with another matter and could not talk.
Glenn Hilke of The Loop told KTW the move to close the drop-in centre is a political decision, regardless of what city officials say. He said he was told on Thursday morning by someone at the city that his business licence will be temporarily revoked. But he said the drop-in centre will continue to operate as is until he is told more.
Hilke said city staff have been hauling personal possessions from outside The Loop on Thursday morning.
"If The Loop does close down, this other space is not going to be up and running for weeks," Hilke said of the city's plans for temporary day space for the homeless and others in need. "And it's not only homeless people who use The Loop, There are seniors who have housing, don't have money for food. They might need some socialization, bus tickets, whatever. Like, what's going to happen to these people? You know, they [city] don't care, they really don't care. It's just like The Loop has become the target, right? The social media groups are going insane. We had a vigilante show up today and start threatening to beat people up."
And if The Loop does close, where would the people who use the drop-in centre go?
"Right back to where they were going before — in behind your business and my business and shitting over there and pissing over there and dropping their needles over there," Hilke said.
On Thursday, The Loop volunteer Heather McDonald and others could be found setting up the patio space and breakfast service at about 9 a.m. about two hours after the disturbance.
McDonald said she was informed “somebody with a baseball bat came in to threaten, vigilante style, some of our guests.” She said that man threatened them outside the building and then entered it to threaten one of their staff members.
The Loop visitor James Hutton, who was involved in the incident, told KTW the man appeared intoxicated and said something to his girlfriend, Montana Robarts, who said something back, leading to a scuffle.
“He grabbed me by my throat, grabbed me by both my arms, and he was big as an ox,” Hutton said. “He just started going after everybody after that.”
Robarts said the man accosted the staff member inside before engaging with them. Hutton said they have been homeless since their house on Willow Street burned down this past December.
Hutton said no one appeared hurt, noting a bylaw officer was trying to hold the man back and police arrived and eventually released the man.
McDonald said she met with Hilke and other organizers of The Loop on Wednesday night to discuss the current situation. McDonald said The Loop has been incurring fines since being deemed a nuisance property, but will continue operations as long as possible.
“Until they pull our business licence and lock our doors, we’ll keep doing it,” she said.
McDonald said the city’s plans to create day space with supports on nearby Campbell Avenue is “fantastic news,” noting the North Shore can use more places like that.
“That shouldn’t affect what we’re doing cause we’re on the same side,” she said, noting co-operation is better than competition.
KTW observed a Kamloops RCMP officer and several community service officers visiting The Loop just after 1 p.m. Thursday. By 3 p.m. a mass of items that had been stockpiled in front of the building that morning and the patio furniture was gone and staff were seen leaving the building, but no notice of closure appeared to be on the door.
McDonald said RCMP and community services officers attended and told everyone they had to remove those belongings from the property, which those in attendace did. McDonald said she was also told by attending officers they had to shut their doors could not serve food. She said people then dispersed to take care of their belongings. What was left over was said to be loaded into a pickup truck and hauled away by community services to the department's location on Mission Flats Road.
Staff opted to close The Loop early on Thursday as a result of the city's response, but plan to return to their usual operations Friday morning, accoridng to Hilke.
"Until we get something official that we can respond to, we are doing business as usual," Hilke said.
Hilke said they will be holding staff meetings over the next three days to decide what to do moving forward. He said he learned this afternoon from administration at the foodbank, which they access three times a week, that they will not be supplied until they resolve their situation with the city.
Multiple calls to the mayor and community services personnell by this newspaper have not been returned.
For more on the city’s plans to open day spaces in North Kamloops and downtown for the homeless and others in need, click here.