People experiencing homelessness in Kelowna are suffering in the heat wave.
A city bylaw requires that residents who call the Rail Trail ‘tent city’ home dismantle their tents and shelter each morning before 9 a.m.
Capital News visited the city-sanctioned encampment on July 25, when residents were required to pack-up and haul their belongings away despite the hot weather.
Kevin Mead, Manager of Bylaw Services, said that they try to take a compassionate approach, but there are liabilities in allowing a tent city to exist. He said that Bylaw does make accommodations for extreme weather events like rain and cold. Mead said they don’t make people move in weather beyond what they feel comfortable walking in.
When asked if there is an upper limit to the temperature where people are no longer expected to take down their shelter, he said that comfort “is in the eye of the beholder.”
One resident had a seizure, shortly after 12 p.m. on July 25, triggered in-part by dehydration and the heat.
Multiple residents reported to Capital News that they had fainted over the past few days, which one man said that it was “unusual.”
Mead said that there is always an expectation that people will have to move each morning, and said that residents are aware of the bylaw.
Some expressed their frustration to Capital News about having to pack and unpack their belongings each day. Many people have to tow shopping carts full of their things over a kilometre away, a difficult task exaggerated by the extreme heat.
Metro Kelowna has been allowed to set up a day use site 500 metres from the overnight encampment where they offer water, food and social support.
Mead said that the location of the day site was a “deliberate decision,” and intended to make people leave the tent city to access the resources.
Residents explained that the 500-metre trek is difficult to do when experiencing withdrawal, and managing health conditions like infection, while having to lug all of their belongings with them.
They explained that they cannot leave their belongings unattended because of the risk of theft or it being thrown out by law enforcement.
The residents say that Kelowna RCMP and bylaw are often aggressive with them in the morning if they are too slow to move.
Mead said that every one of his officers “cares genuinely” about people experiencing homelessness and want to ensure that everyone gets the care that they need. He said that forcing people to leave the encampment each morning is better for the residents and the health of the community.