In the wake of two letters from residents referring to ongoing thefts, break-ins and, most recently, drug paraphernalia in the lobby of their apartment building, Salmon Arm council directed city staff to remove the nearby tent encampment by March 15.
A person who lives nearby the tent encampment on 3rd Street SW wrote that she was expecting problems would decrease when the winter shelter at the Downtown Activity Centre (DAC) opened in January.
“My building’s strata and myself are at our wits’ end. We’ve called the RCMP, filed complaints with the city, we’ve followed the appropriate channels, we’ve installed cameras, changed locks on doors and are putting in locks on our outside doors.
“But why must we, as contributing members of this community, have to abide by laws and rules while these individuals within the community are not held accountable and can set up tents wherever they please?”
Another person said: “I am writing to you with sadness and desperation. Last night a homeless man was using drugs and left used needles in the lobby of my home.”
The letter writer referred to the soccer fields behind the DAC.
“The field is now filled with stolen property, drug paraphernalia, human feces, etc. It is no longer the safe, bright park it once was. Since this homeless camp has arisen, there have been multiple run-ins with crime in my condo building.
“My car has been broken into, our storage locker has been broken into resulting in thousands of dollars of lost property, our mailbox was broken into, there’s screaming and fighting outside my home on almost a nightly basis, people have been sleeping and using drugs in the lobby of my building multiple times.”
Mayor Alan Harrison referred to the letters before making a motion for removal of the tents by March 15. “I think the contents of those letters were disturbing. It made me uncomfortable, as it did to the writers. I really appreciate them writing them.
“I know it’s not easy to step out there and express publicly your thoughts on difficult situations like this. I especially appreciated the empathy and understanding that was evident in those letters.”
Harrison noted that at the Jan. 23 council meeting, council asked staff to remove the tents as the temporary shelter was open, but didn’t specify a date. He said while the shelter seems to be operating well, the tent encampment is causing serious safety problems. Shuswap Youth Soccer will be using the fields in April and Harrison said he’s heard from parents who are uncomfortable enrolling their kids with the encampment there.
He added the city does not permit camping on any public property.
Other members of council spoke at length and voted unanimously to support the decision. Coun. Debbie Cannon spoke of the need to support youth soccer to be able to use the field in April. Coun. Kevin Flynn said he was shocked by what’s been happening to the neighbours, thinking council has no choice but to take back the area for the city’s youth.
Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond noted the city needs a place for kids to play soccer and also needs a place for people without homes to be safe, but not in the same place at the same time.
Coun. Sylvia Lindgren said, with voice breaking, that her heart goes out to people in the encampment, but they aren’t going to get the help they need camping on Safeway field.
Coun. Tim Lavery said he supports the plan with a heavy heart, saying it’s a matter of balancing the rights of those who are homeless and vulnerable, with community rights to the same public space.
Coun. David Gonella said he, too, supports the motion with a heavy heart, but the intended use is for soccer and people tenting won’t get the help they need there.
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