Photo by Savannah Swaisland.

Campers causing a mess along Okanagan River Channel

Homeless people frequently camp along the pathway next to the channel in Penticton

A recent post to the public social media page has once again made the issue of illegal campers the topic of conversation for residents in and around Penticton.

Savannah Swaisland, a Penticton resident, posted photos of a camp set up in the middle of the path west of the channel, south of the Highway 97 bridge to Summerland. Since posting on Sept. 23, the images have garnered reactions from concerned citizens.

“I walk that pathway almost everyday and I’ve never seen it to that degree,” said Swaisland.

Related: PIB leading the charge to target illegal dumping in the region

Her images show a large tarp and umbrella obstructing the path and what appears to be collected garbage and recycling piled next to it in the foliage.

“It’s a safety hazard, there was shattered glass spread around and my child almost picked (it) up,” said Swaisland.

The camper in question, who wishes to remain anonymous, regularly sets up in the area, which is on Penticton Indian Band land. He said he has been moved a number of times by Penticton bylaw officers and has ended up calling a section of the pathway his temporary home.

According to Dawn Russell, the communications co-ordinator with the PIB, he is known to the band and the PIB’s Natural Resource’s Guardian Program members, who frequently clean up illegal camps and dump sites, but he is usually respectful and clean so he’s never been considered a problem. At this time, they have not issued the camper a ’No Trespassing’ order, which is a requirement in the process of cleaning up an illegal camp or dump site.

The camper said he had only set up his tarp and umbrella in that manner on the pathway to have shelter out of the recent rain.

Related: First Nation land trashed by dumpers

“I recycle stuff, so instead of it going to the landfill and that, I try to repurpose it … all the trailers I’ve had I’ve made out of scrap,” said the camper. “I normally have (my tarp and umbrella) folded up and put away, but because of the rain the last few days I set it up.”

The camper said that he was assaulted and his site was “trashed” the evening of Sept. 23, hours after Swaisland’s Facebook post, by other illegal campers who frequently set up in the foliage next to the channel. He believes they are the “real problem” in regards to illegal camping and dumping.

“What these people will do is hit other homeless people because we don’t call the cops,” said the camper. “They hit me and trashed my stuff and took the things I had been collecting.”

He frequently comes into contact with other illegal campers that reside on band land and said he helps the Guardian Progam’s and the city’s efforts in cleaning up after them and disassembling their sites.

“(The program members) were actually impressed with what I was doing … I’ve probably cleaned up 35 camps so far this year,” said the camper. “I go down into the foliage next to the creek and drag up the supplies they’ve stolen and clean up the needles and their garbage.”

He alleges the people are likely drug addicts who “steal supplies from nearby construction and renovation sites” in order to build these camps. This is why he believes he shouldn’t be “lumped into the same category” as these other people because he doesn’t steal and tries to be respectful to other people and the environment.

“I spend my evenings picking up cans and stuff, and I will drag garbage out of the channel that gets left behind,” said the camper. “Like if some peoples’ floaties pop they’ll just let them sink and I’ll fish them out off the bottom.”

Swaisland said she didn’t mean to start a commotion with her Facebook post but wanted to make the community aware of what she had seen.

“The fact of the matter is it was an absolute mess,” said Swaisland.

With illegal camping and dumping on the rise on PIB land and city land, Russell hopes that talking about the issue will help “humanize this unfortunate situation.”

“Not all of these people are junkies or willingly homeless, and it’s sad that they can end up living in these tents and in that condition,” said Russell.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter

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