Limping due to a broken ankle, Mike struggled to get his huge orange tarp, his bike and whatever belongings he could muster up the embankment, covered in compact snow and ice, at lunch Thursday.
Mike, 37, a former landscaper who has lived in Vernon for 22 years, was the last of four people to leave a homeless camp decommissioned Thursday beside Highway 97 across from Vernon Toyota on 48th Avenue.
“We had five days notice,” said Mike, who said he broke his ankle when his bike cart clipped him from behind.
“I’ve got two truckloads full of stuff. I don’t have a truck.”
Mike said he had lived at the camp for “four or five months.” Asked where he was going to go, he simply said, “No idea.”
The Ministry of Transportation owns the camp property and, under Sec. 63 of the Transportation Act, advised campers of concerns that the property was not a safe location, and they should find another place to camp or go to a homeless shelter.
“This was done on Dec. 22,” said a ministry spokesperson in an e-mail to The Morning Star. “Advance notice was given by the RCMP approximately five days ago. Official notification of 48 hours was given at noon Tuesday.”
The safety and well-being of the individuals, said the spokesperson, “is of utmost concern to this ministry.”
“The RCMP and social service agency were on-site last week to offer shelter. The City of Vernon was consulted as part of the process, as their boundaries run further north. They did not go to the site with the ministry or the RCMP.”
Campers were given 48 hours to remove their property and bags were provided. The material left behind will be disposed of.
Crews from Vernon’s Venture Training were on hand Thursday to remove items from the camp. Those included two large tents, four smaller pup tents, a handful of propane tanks, a drum from a drum set, three-wheel carriers and tarpaulins.
Kelly Fehr from the Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison (COOL) team said the team had been in touch with the campers on a regular basis.
“At least one person was not interested in going to a shelter, they wanted nothing to do with curfews,” said Fehr, co-executive director of the John Howard Society of North Okanagan. “Some of them might come to the shelters.”
Shelters in Vernon are either full or near full, and that includes the 33 temporary mats placed at Howard House (20) and the Gateway Shelter (13), and will likely stay that way until the end of March.