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‘Some may go days without water’: No working tap at Kelowna’s Tent City

The water tap has been broken and turned off for seven months
Tent City resident Paula Chartrand sits next to the broken tap. (Jacqueline Gelineau/ Capital News)

Voices from Tent City: Residents of Kelowna’s homeless encampment speak out on living conditions

After more than seven months without water, residents at Kelowna’s Tent City are thirsty.

Each fall, the City of Kelowna shuts off the water to all fountains around the city to prevent freezing pipes, including the spout at the designated encampment for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

Tent City is a city-maintained encampment where people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Kelowna are required to sleep, as per the local bylaws.

When the tap is not running, many of the people who live at the encampment lose their only reliable source of water.

Kevin Mead, bylaw services manager for the City of Kelowna said that the tap has not been turned on this spring as a result of alleged vandalism that caused “subterranian” damage.

Mead explained that the alleged vandalism has occurred numerous times in the past and is costly to repair.

He said the city is currently working on a solution to install a tap that will be less prone to vandalism in the future, but was not able to provide a timeline for repairs. The city is also looking to install more than one tap to service the 100 people that currently call Tent City home, but there is no defined timeline for the project.

In the interim, there has been no effort made by the city to deliver water to Tent City on a regular basis. Bylaw services and police do often carry water bottles in their vehicles that they are able to hand out, but it is not a regular or reliable source of hydration, said Paula Chartrand, a resident of Tent City who has been experiencing homelessness for more than six years.

“We have to ration our water,” said Chartrand.

She said that on a good day, people will be given at most one and a half to two litres of water from outreach organizations like the Kelowna Gospel Mission and Hope Outreach.

Mead said that rather than waiting for a water delivery, people are encouraged to leave the encampment each day to access services, like food and water from places like Metro Community, which is approximately one kilometer away.

However, the simple task of getting out of bed and leaving for the day can be challenging for many people living at Tent City said Chartrand. She said that the majority of the people living at Tent City struggle with mental illness, including depression which makes it difficult for them to get up and access the resources that are available. Additionally, many people have physical and mental disabilities like traumatic brain injuries or illnesses that make it challenging or for them to leave the encampment in search of food and water, said Chartrand. Many of her neighbours are physically not able to walk, ride a bike, or wheel themselves in a wheelchair, to the outreach organizations due to injuries, paralysis, infections and chronic pain.

Mead also said that people who are experiencing homelessness are encouraged to stay at the shelters in order to access additional services and supports.

Despite the available beds, many people living in Tent City have tried to live at shelters in the past and found that it was not the right fit for them at this period of their lives.

“I’m almost 50 years old now, and I don’t want to live by their rules,” said Anthony Yungen, a former welding inspector who has been living at Tent City for the past year. “I’m not a child.”

Many people, like Yungen, find it difficult to live in shelters because of the strict rules, like curfews, that are in place to keep people safe. Other people living in Tent City say they have a difficult time coexisting with neighbours in tight quarters as a result of their own personalities and mental illness. Most of the people living at Tent City have lived in shelters at least for some time, but have either been asked to leave or made the decision to move out because it was not the right environment for them during this period in their lives.

Yungen said that while he is fit and able to outsource his water, many of his neighbours cannot leave due to physical disabilities or mental illness. He said his neighbours with disabilities find it near impossible to access the food, water, showers and laundry services and social supports available at Metro Community, which is located one kilometer away.

“I couldn’t imagine not being mobile. It’s already tough for someone who can leave, I can’t imagine someone who can’t,” said Yungen.

Each day Yungen leaves the encampment to fill up his bottles at stores and outreach centres around the city in order to have water to cook with and drink.

While outreach organizations like Kelowna’s Gospel Mission do deliver food and water to the encampment and spots around the city on a regular basis it is not always reliable, said Chartrand.

She said that if you are away from the area or sleeping when the outreach organization comes through, you’ll miss the delivery and have to go without.

While Capital News was at Tent City to conduct interviews, the Gospel Mission was handing out meals but ran out before everyone had a chance to eat.

The Kelowna Gospel Mission relies on donations and government funding to support the growing number of people experiencing homelessness in the Central Okanagan. The Gospel Mission runs shelters and provides services, such as meals, dental care, laundry, hygine, and social supports.

Over the winter, regular food deliveries to Tent City halted and many people sleeping outdoors went without daily meals and water if they were unable to travel to the outreach centres.

“There are a lot of skinny people down here this spring,” joked Tent City resident Erica Stewart. “Including myself.”

Chartrand explained that the level of mental illness and vulnerability some people are experiencing is so severe, that unless they are handed a bottle of water, they may not drink that day.

She said that for some people, having to complete any steps beyond turning on a tap that is readily available, or opening a bottle is prohibitive.

Chartrand said that for example, when an organization like the Kelowna Gospel Mission delivers food, if the outreach worker forgets to give out a water bottle with the meal, a vulnerable person who is experiencing severe mental illness or substance use disorder will often not even think to ask for a beverage and will simply go without.

Chartrand said that as a result, people’s health is impacted.

She said that not only are people living with illnesses, such as kidney disease or take medication that require them to drink water, but those living at Tent City are also prone to infections as they are unable to bathe.

Chartrand said that if a person wants to shower, they have to wake up early and get to Metro before 8 a.m. in order to secure a spot in line.

“How are you supposed to better your situation if you can’t even shower?” asked Yungen.

In addition to difficulties with mobility that some people experience, folks living at Tent City said that it is also not always easy to leave due to the risk of theft since their belongings are not secured behind a locked door.

“It’s hard to leave because you have so much stuff that is just open,” said Yungen.

Part three of Voices from Tent City will be published next week, follow for more.

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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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