More tent fires at Kelowna homeless encampment feared as temperature drops – Okanagan

A close call to the designated outdoor shelter site in Kelowna this week is a reminder of some of the dangers faced by the homeless.

« Survival is a real thing, » said Amber Webster-Kotak, executive director of Metro Community Services.

Metro is an organization that offers day services to homeless people. Services include meals as well as laundry, toilets and storage facilities.

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Webster-Kotak is among those in the social services sector who are worried about those sleeping outside, especially now that the weather is getting colder.

« It’s that time of year when things start to get chilly at night and early in the morning and people want to stay warm, » Webster-Kotak said.

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“So of course they are looking at different ways that they can do that. And, unfortunately, some of the things that are available for people to keep warm are not suitable for tents.

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On Thursday morning, a tent at the encampment along the rail track in the north of the city center caught fire from a campfire burning nearby.

According to Kelowna Fire Deputy Chief Scott Cronquist, the man inside made it out unscathed.

“He was initially called by an RDCO (Regional Central Okanagan District) animal control officer who noticed the fire and then moved to begin putting the fire out with a fire extinguisher,” Cronquist said. .

“A city employee with a pressure washer truck was also passing at the same time. And he stopped to help put out that fire.

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Click to play video: 'Tent fire at Kelowna homeless encampment'

Tent fire at Kelowna homeless encampment

David Courtoreille and his partner Teresa Schreckenberg are among the approximately 120 people sleeping at the outdoor camp.

« We could see the smoke, we could smell the smoke, » Courtoreille said.

The couple said they used body heat to keep warm at night, but added that many other people sleeping there used camp stoves or open flames to keep out the cold.

« Almost every night someone uses some kind of heat, » Courtoreille said.

And that worries the Kelowna Fire Department.

« It can be very dangerous, with the number of tents set up in the temporary outdoor shelters, » Cronquist said. « It could start a tent-to-tent fire. »

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Cronquist said firefighters were trying to educate tent dwellers about the dangers of heaters.

“The inspection officers come down and walk around the site and just promote with the rules and the RCMP promoting the different safety aspects of being in the outdoor shelter,” he told Global News.

Webster-Kotak said his organization is considering increasing services to help people cope with falling temperatures.

“We are currently looking to modify our services to meet the demand that exists in the community,” she said. « We are considering extending our opening hours to provide some relief to the street community during the day. »

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Many people in the camp were displaced when the 60-bed Doyle Avenue shelter closed in June.

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A replacement shelter in a former fruit packing warehouse on Bay Avenue and Ellis Street was supposed to open now, but labor shortages delayed its opening.

The operator of the shelter, the Kelowna Gospel Mission, is struggling to find staff.

This has left an unusually high number of people camping along the railway track, including Courtoreille and Schreckenberg, who are desperate for the new shelter to open as soon as possible.

« Because once the snow flies, » Courtoreille said, « man, we’re gonna get really cold. »

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