Crews begin cleaning up homeless encampment north of Vernon

Camp cleanup underway

Chelsey Mutter

Cleanup began Monday at a homeless camp north of Vernon that has been the source of numerous fire and garbage complaints.

The site garnered attention after BX-Swan Lake Fire Chief Bill Wacey described it as an "absolute hazmat dump."

A crew from Venture Training was hired by land owners the Nature Trust of BC and CN Rail to undertake the cleanup.

Operations manager Blake Fredrickson said Monday he didn't see any biohazard material or open latrines Wacey had described, but that crews were equipped with safety gear.

Fredrickson says they were making good headway, but the process will take at least a week, maybe even longer.

"Best-case scenario is that we're out of there by Friday, but I don't know. We'll see, there's a lot in there," said Fredrickson.

“My understanding is that they … had about 60 people living in there at one point or another, but it seemed to be pretty well evacuated when we went in on Wednesday to do a walk-through. There was less than a handful of people still in there, and the notice had been served.”

Fredrickson said the Land Trust reached out to him a few weeks ago, along with CN Rail, about cleaning up the area at the south end of Swan Lake. He said the encampment crosses two property lines between the Nature Trust and CN.

Trains won't be running while crews are on site.

Fredrickson said he's been told the train won't run until 4 p.m. every second day.

Venture Training crew member Neil Currie said the team is equipped with steel-toed boots, gloves and hi-vis vests.

“We’re just cleaning up a homeless camp, a pretty gross one,” said Currie.

Fredrickson said RCMP were on site again Monday to walk through and ensure the last few occupiers left the site. Site managers were told to call police back if they face any issues.

“We've done a few homeless camps in the past, but nothing to this scale,” said Fredrickson.

“I didn’t see anything that was biohazardous,” said Fredrickson. “Anything that we see, any drug paraphernalia, needles (and) whatnot, are all put in sharps containers.”

Venture Training employs developmentally disabled adults. Fredrickson those assigned to the site are 'quite apt' and have two site managers to ensure safety.

Donald Gauvin lives nearby and has gone out to the camp looking for belongings stolen from his property. He says the encampment has been there for about two years, and there’s more along the rail line.

“I think the problem with all of these is they don’t nip them in the bud fast enough,” said Gauvin. “If they stopped them when they’re starting, it wouldn’t be what it is today.”

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