A Kamloops woman said she is fed up with garbage left from homeless encampments along the Thompson River after helping clean one up over the weekend when City of Kamloops staff did not attend when called.
Sandy Seibel, who lives on Royal Avenue in North Kamloops, noticed a tent had been on the beach in nearby McArthur Island, near the boat launch, for weeks.
On Sunday at about noon, she came across another person cleaning out its contents and decided to help out.
The tent was filled with numerous items, garbage and an estimated 150 discarded needles.
Seibel initially tried phoning the city’s community services department, but was told the message would be passed along to staff on Monday morning. She said she was told no one was available to respond unless it was a emergency. Seibel said she felt it was an emergency given the tent contained used needles and was on a well-used beach.
She also reached out to ASK Wellness Society, but wasn’t able to get a response until Monday, when a needle pickup hotline number was relayed to her via Facebook.
“Everybody’s got banker hours when this isn’t a Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. problem,” Seibel said.
“We’re not getting the support we need when we need it.”
Having called the bylaws department and cleaned garbage herself near her home numerous times over the years, Seibel said the fact the encampment situation never seems to improve is frustrating. She noted safety and environmental concerns, and opined that social service agencies need to take more responsibility for the people they serve.
Community services manager Tammy Blundell said city staff must give people living in temporary shelters time to pack up and leave before dismantling an encampment.
That process was underway in this situation, she said, with a notice being left at the encampment last Thursday when the encampment’s occupants were not there.
Blundell said staff were waiting until Monday before taking action, but didn’t get the chance.
The notice found by Seibel, however, indicated staff would return last Friday to dismantle the tent.
Blundell said she does not know why no one attended last Friday, but suspects staff were redirected to other priorities.
She said weekend response is currently on an emergency basis.
Asked what constitutes an emergency for the bylaws department, Blundell noted assisting the RCMP or Kamloops Fire Rescue in securing a scene.
“It may be a priority for a resident, but when it comes to bylaw we have to reprioritize,” Blundell said.
The city’s bylaws department doesn’t have weekend shifts as it transitions to its new community services model, which has also left it short-staffed, Coun. Dale Bass told KTW.
Bass said she feels for people impacted by such encampments, but added that, given the current status of the department, the best people can do on weekends is leave a message and let staff address the problem on the following Monday.
Bass, who chairs the municipality’s community services committee, said she understands the issue is urgent for residents, but noted it’s not an emergency as the problem exists in many neighbourhoods.
“It’s garbage — dangerous, toxic garbage sitting on the ground. If you walk away from it, it’s not a problem,” Bass said.
The city is adding staffing to increase to seven days per week service from community service officers, but Blundell noted they are still in the hiring process.
“We are going to 24/7 coverage, but it probably won’t be until the end of the summer,” Bass said.
ASK Wellness executive director, Bob Hughes said he would like to extend his agency’s services, such as outreach and cleanup, to evenings and weekends, but noted the funds are not available and resources are already stretched thin. Hughes added ASK Wellness staff are familiar with the homeless woman who had been living in the tent.
He said ASK isn’t the only social agency in town and its needle pickup service isn’t a mandate, but something it provides as it’s the right thing to do. That responsibility, he noted, lies with the city.
“Just because we work with people who are struggling with addiction or are homeless doesn’t make us responsible for what they do,” Hughes said. “We’re trying to find them housing and to get well.”