Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

Garbage on the side of Highway 97, located north of Vernon, is just a small piece of evidence of a nearby homeless camp — one that is so well tucked into the bushes that it doesn’t look like much from the road.

But on the inside of the tarps that surround it, the camp resembles a garbage dump.

“I think it’s a shame we’ve come to this in society,” said Don Gauvin, a nearby resident.

Gauvin said he’s seen the camp, along the shores of Swan Lake, grow in recent months.

“We need to clean it up, it’s a … protected bird sanctuary and it’s a disaster,” Gauvin told Global News.

The encampment site contains all kinds of items: household items, tools, construction materials and a whole lot of garbage, just to name a few.

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“Deplorable,” is how the fire chief of the BX-Swan Lake Fire Department describes the site.

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Bill Wacey also said it’s dangerous.

“There’s trip hazards and they’ve got … chopped trees down in there and then they just kind of lay them across the pathway. They got rope hanging at head level,” Wacey said.

Calls for service have become far too frequent with overdoses and fires, including one this past weekend.

“It was one of the worst ones that we had to deal with, simply for the fact of the amount of garbage. And you know when you see the black billowing smoke … it’s all full of carcinogenic materials,” Wacey said.

Wacey said the site is also filled with latrine pits, in an area declared as an important wetland by the provincial government.

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“Holes that have been dug in the ground and they’ve been doing their business inside there,” Wacey said. “It’s all leaching into the lake.”

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Wacey said he now requires firefighters to wear full protective gear and breathing apparatus when entering the site.

“There’s probably about 30 or 40 propane bottles and a whole raft of spray cans, ” Wacey said. “So, you know, once you get a good working fire in there, then we’re gonna be in some serious trouble.”

It’s a concern shared by Gauvin.

“If that catches on fire and comes down here, it obviously can encroach on me,” said Gauvin.

Because the encampment is just north of Vernon city limits, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO).

The regional district’s chief administrative officer, David Sewell, told Global News that they’re concerned about the situation, but noted that since homeless camps frequently move between private and public lands, it’s a multi-jurisdictional issue that the district can’t solve alone.

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