There seems to have been a shift in Quesnel over the past few years. More and more property crimes are being shouted about on social media, and residents report discovering needles around the city regularly, even with our local Clean Team’s efforts to keep public areas safe and needle-free.
So when the Observer first heard about a “tarp city” on Warden Street in West Quesnel, we pictured an area chock full of tents and ramshackle structures, home to dozens of homeless folk and a haven for local criminals. We wondered how such a thing could have flown under our radar.
It was a bit of an anticlimax to arrive at the property on Warden Street to find a single tarped area. Our reporter almost missed the dark green tarp, as it camouflages well with the surrounding foliage, tucked away as it is under some trees on a vacant lot.
But there’s no doubt those who visit and stay at the tarp, and in the adjacent trailer, are causing disturbances. Neighbours have reported individuals coming and going at all hours, traipsing through their backyards, and the smell of human waste a new odor wafting through the neighbourhood on the summer breeze.
City councillors unanimously voted to take remedial action against the structure’s presence, but as staff and Mayor Bob Simpson pointed at at a special council meeting on Tuesday night, with the tarp located on private property, there’s only so much they can do. The laws and bylaws are there to protect property owners from the City smashing down unwanted structures – whether a tarp city or a shed – willy-nilly.
And so the residents of Warden Street will have to tolerate their tarp-dwelling neighbours for another month or so, until the property owner removes the structure.
But the fact that the tarp was set up on private property may actually be fortunate for Quesnel, in this case. Tent cities set up on crown or city land are much more difficult to get rid of: the City of Nanaimo, for example, is seeking a court injunction to remove occupants from city-owned land, and the case is currently in front of the Supreme Court. Nanaimo’s tent city was erected more than two months ago.
This reality is just one more reason shelter, supportive and low-cost housing options are essential here. Our local one-tarp city should serve as a wake-up call. People need places to live, no matter what their background. The homeless are not just going to disappear, no matter how hard others wish for it.
And what about those who currently call the tarp home? The Observer spoke to one man at the site who said he and his wife had been living there for a few weeks. He wouldn’t disclose whether he had another home elsewhere, but City staff said in their report to council that the pair were understood to have been asked to leave a nearby property.
Will the couple pick up and build their temporary home elsewhere? Or will they be able to find a place in more suitable housing, with running water and an actual roof over their heads?
Many Quesnel residents may not like Seasons House or the supportive housing development proposed for Elliott Street.
But they’ll like a tent city in LeBourdais Park even less.
Quesnel Cariboo Observer