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West Kelowna to tackle temporary farm worker housing issue

Move comes after incident at Sharpe Road home and presentation showing appalling living conditions.
Collin Crabbe went to West Kelowna city council Tuesday to call for improvements to farm worker housing. —Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

West Kelowna council has agreed to take a closer look at temporary farm worker housing in light of a recent incident where a woman tried to break into a home on Sharpe Road but was fought off by the home’s female resident.

On Tuesday, the resident’s husband, Collin Crabbe, appeared before council and urged the city to start regulating farm worker housing in the city, particularly in the area around his home.

“Something needs to be done,” said Crabbe, who showed council a series of photographs of appalling living conditions that farm workers are exposed to in his area.

A lack of proper washing and toilet facilities and very poor housing, as well as what he alleged is exploitation of foreign workers and general unsafe conditions have lead to problems in the neighbourhood over the last few years including an increase in crime.

He said a petition signed by 70 people in the neighbourhood was presented to the city last year but residents have not seen any improvement.

Crabbe said he would like to see the city follow the lead of other communities in the valley and regulate farm worker housing requiring proper facilities.

On Aug 6, Crabbe’s wife was home with her young son when a naked woman, believed to be high on drugs, tried to break into their home. The woman was believed to be a farm worker from the area.

Crabbe said his wife had to lock their son in his room for safety while she fought off the intruder. The woman was later apprehended by police after being found in a shed on the Crabbe’s property.

Mayor Doug Findlater said the city takes the issue very seriously and on Tuesday council ordered staff to investigate further and report back with possible solutions.

Crabbe presented several recommendations of his own including city-required housing with proper facilities for temporary foreign farm workers and inspections of that housing as well as ongoing monitoring.

West Kelowna chief administrative officer Jim Zaffino said he has met with residents and he is personally spearheading a co-ordinated response with other agencies that have jurisdiction over farm worker housing.

He said he has also instructed city bylaw officers and the RCMP to step up patrols in the area and report directly to him.

“You will see an increased police presence,” he told Crabbe.

Following the council meeting, Crabbe said he felt council’s response was a “great first step,” but given the lack of response in the past, he will believe the city is acting on residents’ concerns when he sees action.

He said farm workers are coming here without any knowledge of the conditions they will be expected to live in and are being exploited by some farmers and that is not right. He said the workers need proper living conditions and housing.

He said with next to no money and appalling living conditions, some workers are turning to crime out of desperation.

He said he was encouraged by Zaffino’s response because in the past it seemed no one was taking a leadership role in addressing the issue.

He pointed to other communities, like Kelowna that have recently addressed the issue of temporary farm worker housing.

Findlater said the city has spoken with other communities, like Oliver and Osoyoos that have also dealt with the issue.