A homeless camp in the park below city hall in Williams Lake was dismantled peacefully Monday afternoon April 17, but acting RCMP Insp. Brad McKinnon said the community will need to work together for a solution.
“This is obviously an illegal public encampment on public property,” McKinnon told the Tribune as people who had been camping there were rolling up their sleeping bags, folding up tents and taking things away.
“We are not here to be heavy-handed. We are here to work with these folks to get to the crux of the issue.”
McKinnon said the RCMP will be taking a closer look in partnership with mental health, Interior Health and the city to try and come up with a proper solution.
Some of the cities they will be looking to for examples are Kelowna and Victoria where McKinnon said they have “great” models to address and help people with homelessness.
“The goal here is not to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The goal is to find the most effective solution to the problems in Williams Lake. That means everyone has got to be a part of this - including these people in the camp.”
It won’t be solved overnight, McKinnon added.
“Everyone comes in with their own set of challenges but at the end of the day, no one chooses to be in this situation. The city has to accept the fact the world’s an expensive place. Homelessness is a city issue. We are here to help the city deal with it.”
Jeffery McNabb, who goes by “Skip,” said he started the camp in Herb Gardner Park a week ago as a visible and peaceful protest to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness.
Before moving to Williams Lake, McNabb was living in 100 Mile House and before that for 10 years in East Vancouver on and off, struggling with his addictions, he said.
Ten to 20 people have been at the staying at the camp, McNabb said.
Police confirmed most were from the 100 Mile House area.
After everything was cleared away McKinnon said “now the real work begins to strike at the heart of this problem.”
During the regular council meeting Tuesday, April 19, CAO Gary Muraca said he wanted to make sure everyone recognizes the work of Canadian Mental Health and Interior Health, who interacted with the people in the camp.
Coun. Scott Nelson asked staff to bring forward a report to council to work on a policy initiative regarding tents .
“I know we have had a lot of emails going back and forth, but we need to be clear so the staff knows exactly the direction that we as a community want to go,” Nelson said.
Muraca said the report will come to council on April 25 to discuss a process, the bylaws in place, and will have questions asking for direction from council.
Muraca told the Tribune Monday that the city would be offering to store belongings for people in the short-term if they did not have anywhere to take them.