As snow blanketed cities across the province early this month, several municipalities, Kamloops included, clamoured to get unhoused folk off the street and into beds.
On Thursday, Nov. 3, Kamloops saw its first snowfall of the year. While the city had been preparing two overnight shelter locations in time for Nov. 1, issues with a local service provider meant emergency weather locations remained closed as the cold worsened.
When it became clear no other help would be available that night, staff at The Loop Resource Centre, informally known as The Loop, leapt into action. Organizers opened the building to residents outside of regular operating hours — despite fears the city could force the service hub to shut down.
Red tape holding back local provider
Last year, the city declared The Loop’s property a nuisance under the Good Neighbour Bylaw because essential services were deployed to the location in a way it deemed “excessive.” Since then, The Loop staff say it has received a series of fines levied for allegedly disturbing the “quiet, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience” of residents living nearby.
The title of nuisance property can be applied to residential and commercial spaces if nuisances are repeatedly called in and the city or police are frequently forced to respond. Its new title means The Loop technically cannot operate as a shelter overnight, but staff disregarded those limits to house people after the Nov. 3 cold snap.
Glen Hilke, The Loop’s coordinator, says he isn’t sure whether the city could penalize him for the decision.
“Worst case scenario as it relates to [The Loop] is the city can decide to shut us down,” says Hilke. “They can revoke our business license or force our landlord to evict us. Thus far, there has been somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2,000 worth of fines levied against us.”
“There’s really no transparency to the whole process,” Hilke adds. “If Bylaw says they’ve been getting a lot of calls [about your property], and you ask, ‘well, who’s calling?’ Bylaw won’t tell you … you have to file a freedom of information request.”
Hilke says the Good Neighbour Bylaw is vulnerable to what he calls an “orchestrated campaign” by a small vocal minority of residents.
“If a group of individuals, businesses, or associations, for example, want to see something go away, they can make it happen by filing enough complaints,” he says.
“The whole city works on a complaint-based system. If you and I, and a thousand other people, call the city, send emails, and write letters saying ‘The Loop is fantastic’ … none of that is entered into a database,” Hilke says.
“In contrast, if one person goes and calls Bylaw about The Loop, Bylaw opens up a file.”
When it’s not operating as an emergency shelter, The Loop connects people who are unhoused with resources like Kamloops Meal Train, The Loop’s Lunch & Learn program and the Kamloops Peer Ambassador Program. Unlike traditional or emergency overnight shelters, drop-in shelters like The Loop remain open 365 days a year and provide a place for visitors to relax, fill their bellies and get out of the elements.
The Loop is part of the Tranquille Market Corridor, an up-and-coming area slated for development within the North Shore Neighbourhood Plan. Hilke says the City and the North Shore Business Association (NSBA) want to improve the area’s optics — and he believes a soup kitchen like The Loop doesn’t fit in.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Hilke says. “On one side, people don’t like seeing homelessness. They don’t like seeing poor people carrying around all of their belongings, which some call garbage. On the other side, special interest lobbying takes place by the development community … to further advance their plans.”
“We know the city doesn’t want us here because of [the North Shore Neighbourhood Plan]. I mean, all of these properties around us are being bought up.”
Hilke says the city has asked The Loop to lower its profile on occasion. “At one point, they asked us to stop serving food outside. [The city] would call and say, ‘we’re under so much pressure from businesses and the general public about the optics of homelessness … can you stop serving food outside?’ So that’s what we did, despite it being an absurd concept. Then they asked us to stop serving food altogether.”
At the time, The Loop’s board of directors was concerned that the city would shut them down if they didn’t comply, Hilke says. So in Oct. 2021, The Loop stopped serving food.
Hilke recalls residents who regularly used The Loop to get meals suffered because of the sudden change.
“It was tough. We’d have people knocking on our door 30 to 40 times a day, saying, ‘I’m hungry. I’m starving.’ So we’d ask them to go and sit across the street, and we’d bring them something to eat there. I mean, it was just insane.”
“Then, it started to get cold, and I said, ‘you know what, we’re not doing this. This is stupid.’ So we went back to our usual [programming] despite fear of repercussion.”
Around the 2021 holidays, Kamloops saw a nearly three-week-long cold spell. Residents may remember how bitter cold it was on Christmas as most of B.C. was under extreme cold and Arctic outflow weather warnings that week. Nearly two dozen temperature records were broken across B.C. on boxing day.
Hilke says emergency shelters were at capacity at the time, so The Loop stepped up.
“We shouldered the burden for the entire city for three weeks. We were open 24/7. Did we ever get a call, letter or visit from the city saying no, you can’t do that because you’re this or you’re that? No, of course not. Because they needed us.”
This year, as the city scrambled to get emergency cold-weather shelters up and running, as reported by Kamloops This Week, The Loop stepped up again.
Recent cold snap shows continued need for services
At the end of October, the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) announced it would not operate cold weather shelters in Kamloops this winter, citing a lack of community support in the city.
CMHA’s decision forced the City of Kamloops and BC Housing to find new operators just days before emergency shelters were poised to open.
At the time, Stuart Wood elementary and the Yacht Club were set to act as temporary winter shelters from Nov. 1 to March 31 with funding from BC Housing. But without an operator, the emergency shelters could not open.
When temperatures dropped on Nov. 3, The Loop opened its doors to shelter people from the cold. Hilke told Radio NL that 42 people came in that night, and an additional 11 people were found and transported to the emergency room at Royal Inland Hospital.
“I scraped up people, literally, off the ground,” Hilke said at the time.
On Nov. 7, four days after the first snowfall, temperatures dropped even further. With a cold snap predicted to settle in for the remainder of the week, the City of Kamloops sent out a press release announcing the opening of the 24-bed Stuart Wood shelter, operated by BC Housing and Out of the Cold, downtown on Third Avenue and St. Paul Street. The press release also stated Stuart Wood would remain open from Nov. 7 to March 31, 2023.
The next day, the city continued to roll out its emergency shelters. The Yacht Club and its 19 beds opened at 1140 River St on Nov. 8 with support from BC Housing and the Mustard Seed. As of this week, the Mustard Seed says it will continue operating the shelter until March 31, 2023.
The total shelter bed count in Kamloops now stands at 209 beds with additional seated warming spaces in some shelters.
According to the city’s latest point-in-time homeless count, approximately 206 people experienced homelessness in Kamloops in 2021, nearly half of whom identified as Indigenous.
Although there are technically enough beds for the 206 people counted as homeless in Kamloops last year, point-in-time counts provide a snapshot of people who are experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period and, by definition, underestimate the total figure.
A better way forward?
As advocates like Hilke point out, emergency shelters are a stop-gap measure and provide just one part of a continuum of housing services needed. However, until more affordable and supportive housing is available, people living without shelter in Kamloops will need places to sleep safely during winter.
The Wren reached out to City of Kamloops staff to ask why nobody coordinated with The Loop to deliver emergency shelter services when other options fell through on Nov. 3. A representative did not respond in time for publication.
Meanwhile, BC Housing told KTW delays in providing emergency shelter are due to the lack of experienced operators.
Hilke says anyone interested in supporting vulnerable residents and The Loop should consider volunteering at the organization as well as donating money or goods to the service. Cold-weather clothes are especially needed right now, he adds. Anyone with questions about helping The Loop can call Hilke at 250-879-0465.
The organizations stepping in to staff shelters originally run by the CMHA — the Mustard Seed and Out of the Cold — also accept donations and work with volunteers.
In the long term, Hilke reiterates services like emergency shelters and soup kitchens aren’t going to solve homelessness in Kamloops. He says change needs to come from above.
“Our problem is with the bureaucrats, with the city and with the province.”
Editor’s note: After publication on Nov. 15 a representative of the City of Kamloops declined to provide a response to questions about The Loop’s nuisance property status and its delivery of emergency weather response services.