“There’s another bottom they don’t tell you about. That’s the emotional bottom.”
Those were the words of Karen Haynes Wednesday afternoon, at the foot of a path into Esplanade Park, where her and her tent mate Terry Gabelhei’s items were strewn out along the side of the road.
A large pile to be sure, but only part of their belongings, the rest of which were shipped off by a restoration crew in the back of pickup trucks, along with other campsites in the area.
The cleanup came the same day the Western News published a feature story on the homeless camps in Esplanade Park.
As the two stood by the side of the road Wednesday afternoon, the devastation was palpable. Energy in Haynes’ and Gabelhei’s voices last week had noticeably diminished on Wednesday. That said, after the restoration crews had left, that energy slowly returned to the hardy pair.
While Haynes and Gabelhei had lost their tent to the cleanup, Haynes said a friend was giving them a new tent. But for the exhausted, defeated pair, a night at a motel was in order.
Gabelhei said springing for a room that night would let them clean up and get some much needed rest, after spending days on edge since hearing from bylaw that a cleanup was coming.
Having been off-and-on homeless for six years and well-off in the past, Gabelhei said she has managed to keep much of her belongings up to now. Among the items lost to the cleanup were Gabelhei and Haynes’ tent and a bag containing Gabelhei’s will and testament and her father’s will.
“The other one (bag) contained my laptop and some medical documentation that I needed to hand in to welfare for disability. But I can get that replaced,” Gabelhei said.
But replacing some of those records and downsizing her life, Gabelhei said, only adds to the current turbulence.
Those camping out believed, after a conversation with bylaw Tuesday, they would be able to keep their belongings at their spots as long as they were packed and cleaned up and someone was with the items at all time.
Bylaw supervisor Tina Siebert could not comment Wednesday evening on what comments had been made, as the attending bylaw officers were off for the night. She did confirm in an earlier email conversation that crews cleaned up a number of truckloads of garbage in the space as well, including 10 used needles.
“It had accumulated in a short duration and we had multiple complaints to our office,” Siebert said. “We quite often find several needles (used) at the sites our officers come across, and public safety is a paramount to our community.”
Earlier this week, however, Siebert commended efforts by campers to clean up the area, and Gabelhei said they had been lauded by police for the work as well. The campers said much of that garbage was coming not from people camping out, but people who go to the secluded area to hang out.
Even after Gabelhei and Haynes packed up all of their items, in an attempt to be in compliance with what they believed was an agreement with bylaw, they were hit Tuesday night seemingly by a tornado.
“You go out for a couple hours, you come home, everything’s thrown on the hillside. They went through everything. Everything. Every bag was unpacked, every piece of everything was everywhere,” Gabelhei said.
“It takes a toll on you. I’m getting too old for this crap, I think. But what can I do? I can’t even afford a seniors’ home.”
Earlier this week, as the issue of the Esplanade camp held at a simmer, Pivot Legal Society lawyer Anna Cooper said local governments need to beef up access to permanent or long-term spaces for homeless, including housing.
But just 12 hours before restoration crews began their cleanup, Penticton city council delayed a proposal for 52 units of supported housing, seeking a new proposal from B.C. Housing.
Gabelhei seemed largely unfazed by the decision, but said it was “the same story over and over.”
Councillors pointed to the proposal’s proximity to three schools, in a spot where the project would have joined another transitional housing facility from B.C. Housing.
“I believe looking in the long-term vision for this community, we need to find the right spot for this facility,” Coun. Helena Konanz said.
“I know people will think otherwise, but I think it was courageous of this council to say — many of us to say we want this, but we want it somewhere else.”
Following the meeting, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said, given the result of the hearing, any initiative for allowing Esplanade campers to hold onto their spots in the park, or similar project, would have to come from a service provider.
“Some of the social agencies would have to say ‘here’s another temporary solution that would help those in need and reduce the strain or burden in the community,’” Jakubeit said.