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Encampment outside Penticton not getting cleared anytime soon

The Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Housing are working on a plan for such camps
A homeless camp on Highway 97 near Red Wing continues to grow despite a large fire in October 2023. (Marla Smith photo)

A growing encampment along Highway 97 north of Penticton won’t be cleared out any time soon.

West Bench Director Riley Gettins brought up residents’ concerns about the camp located between Sage Mesa and Redwing and asked for an update on the situation from the RCMP during their presentation of quarterly statistics to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board.

The information she received will not make those concerns go away.

“At our last task force meeting, MoTI (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) elected not to get involved with dismantling the camp,” said Sgt. Paul Bentham, head of the Summerland detachment. “I’ll be following up with MoTI again now that the weather is warmer to see if there’s a plan moving forward as we want to ensure that the camp doesn’t grow.”

READ MORE: Okanagan encampments in jurisdictional ‘Bermuda Triangles’ a shared concern

Later on in the board meeting, Erik Lachmuth, a representative of MoTI, said that they are currently holding off on getting involved with any encampments in the province.

“For now, we are just looking at areas where there are immediate safety risks to do intervention on,” said Lachmuth.

He said that MoTI is currently working with the Ministry of Housing on a provincial policy regarding homeless encampments. Once the policy is completed, then MoTI would begin to use it for direction regarding particular camps.

Lachmuth added that the Ministry had reviewed the camp below Sage Mesa and said they had not identified any imminent safety risk for the people using the camp or for people traveling along Highway 97.

The risk of fire from the encampment is a concern among residents as winter eases off, Gettens said. That concern was shared back when the director first raised the issue at the RDOS in October 2023, and further highlighted when a fire erupted that same month at the camp.

The fire required the Penticton Fire Department and Penticton Indian Band Fire Department to extinguish. No one was injured in that fire.

At the time, it was said the encampment is located in a jurisdictional “Bermuda Triangle” over its location in the RDOS and on Crown Land adjacent to Highway 97.

It was also stated that MoTI was not willing to send staff to the camp until it was cleared out, while bylaw and RCMP stated that they could not force out the individuals from the encampment themselves.

Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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