Every single day bylaw staff with the City of Kelowna remove an average of 800 lbs of discarded items from one of the new homeless camps set up in the north end of the city due to safety concerns.
Darren Caul, director of community safety, said it’s a difficult, but necessary task to remove the abandoned items found at the temporary site located on Recreation Avenue.
“People who live without homes operate from a state of scarcity and so they quite naturally and expectedly collect,” said Caul.
“The amount of material and unclaimed property generated on a daily basis is well beyond what is manageable or compatible with a temporary overnight shelter site.”
He said each person who uses the site can safely store their items in two large recycling bins on wheels, which are then stored inside a shipping container. Each bin has their name and date attached to it.
“If they are not accessed or used within three days they are deemed abandoned and disposed of,” said Caul, adding most shelters only offer to store a single rubber made bin per person.
That being said, if there are items of value, including sentimental value, those items may be stored separately and are accessible for people to retrieve within 30 days.
Due to health and safety hazards, he said bylaw staff can not go through bags that are left behind nor can abandoned items be reused by other people.
His comments follow the publication of a video on Dec. 4 that showed bylaw officers and city employees allegedly throwing away people’s belongings, including mattresses and tents, drawing the ire from many on social media.
“Not even caring about what is being thrown out, they just deem it all garbage, but is it? No, it’s perfectly usable items for anyone,” said Facebook user Derek Foreel, who uploaded the video.
Caul described the situation as extremely complex, adding that on Leon Avenue where people experiencing homelessness were previously living the city removed an average of 1,200 lbs of material a day.
“The context is really, really important for people to understand the complexities of what it is they are seeing,” said Caul.
“The video depicts just another one of the complexities of those living without homes on our streets and of those who are trying to manage a very difficult issue,” said Caul.
He urged people who have been donating items at the site to drop items off at an agency or non-profit organization that is equipped to handle donated items.
“We absolutely recognize and frankly it’s wonderful to see the level of attention and generosity among the people of Kelowna wanting to donate at the site for people living without homes, but we ask people to redirect that generosity to the many agencies in our city that are directly involved in supporting and serving people living without homes year-round,” said Caul.
“Many of the donations are not compatible with a temporary overnight shelter site and while well intentioned some of these donations create unintended challenges and consequences.”
For example, he said people donating food may not be aware of other people’s allergies.
He welcomed news earlier this week from B.C. Housing and the John Howard Society of Okanagan Kootenay that it would be opening up a temporary shelter with 40 beds at a city-owned property.
The building, located at 555 Fuller Avenue, will temporarily house 40 people who already have beds at Cornerstone shelter and the Kelowna Gospel Mission to free up space at those two shelters for those who are currently out on the streets or camping at Recreation Avenue.
“That is a very welcomed and necessary announcement that will make a very significant and positive impact for those living without homes on our streets,” said Caul, adding the temporary shelters set up on Recreation Avenue and at the base of Knox Mountain will remain open for as long as needed.
“As long as we have more people on our streets living without homes than we do shelter space, people will continue to have the legal right to shelter overnight in our designated spaces.”