Some neighbours leaving over North Shore shelter, others want seat at the table

Shelter concerns pile up

Weeks after BC Housing announced the planned construction of a homeless shelter on a city-owned lot in North Kamloops, some Westmount and Schubert residents have come forward with concerns about the decision, saying they want a seat at the table.

Rose Roy, who co-owns a business on Kingston Avenue, near the proposed site of the Moira House shelter, said she believes there should be consultation with business and residential communities to solve issues of homelessness and addiction.

“Why can't we sit together as community business leaders, community leaders, council, maybe law enforcement, come together and really put together a plan,” Roy said.

“I think what's happened is that everyone's been left out. And BC Housing is allowed to command — for lack of better words — the process.”

Roy said the first she heard of the shelter announcement was on Nov. 9, and since then, she hasn’t been able to get any further concrete details from BC Housing, just receiving “cut-and-paste” responses to her questions.

A report from two closed council meetings released in advance of city council’s Tuesday meeting shows that council voted in favour authorizing the Kingston Avenue lease to BC Housing on July 20.

According to the report, the province is leasing the land for $1 per year for three years, with the option to extend the lease for two one-year terms.

“They had discussions and decisions [were] made around the shelter locations without consultation or advance discussions,” Roy said.

“The school community knew nothing about it either, and there are two schools in very close proximity to this site. I think in all fairness, there should have been some discussion with the various communities in that particular area.”

Roy’s sentiment is shared by Dennis Hayes, a Westmount resident who penned a letter to the city and BC Housing on behalf of a number of community members with concerns in the wake of the province’s announcement.

Hayes said there is good expertise in the city that should be tapped so the city can provide better long-term solutions for people living rough.

“We want community engagement. We want evidence based programs created by local experts to support our vulnerable citizens. We want to have a seat at the table,” Hayes said.

“BC Housing parachuting in temporary shelter after temporary shelter is not addressing the needs of anyone.”

Hayes said he was shocked to see the shelter planned for the Kingston Avenue location, which he says is 100 metres from a daycare, 20 metres from a community park, between two elementary schools and “miles from any support services.”

It’s a concern shared by Roy, who said she wants to see rationale from BC Housing regarding why it chose the Kingston site.

“I keep having visions of our people that are experiencing homelessness making their way to the shelter, and the shelter is full. And they've made it all the way out there. What are they going to do next,” Roy said.

Carmin Mazzotta, the city’s social, housing and community development manager, said there have been discussions about non-profits working together to operate a shuttle service to proposed shelters on Kingston Avenue and in Sahali, at the former Greyhound bus depot.

“I think a point that needs to be considered is that there are people experiencing homelessness who do frequent the riverbanks along the Rivers Trail and that area of the community, and don't currently have access to a shelter,” Mazzotta said.

“The shelter system will be able to provide a shelter space for some of those folks, as well.”

Roy said she believes there are some well-run supportive housing facilities in the city, but after hearing stories from business owners near the temporary shelter at Memorial Arena, she is also concerned with the potential for an increase in crime, vandalism, trash and discarded needles.

Tamie Yurkiw-Braaten, a resident in the Schubert area, said she purchased her home in the area partly because of its access to recreation, but she doesn’t feel safe walking alone in the area due to crime and social issues concentrated near Rivers Trail.

Yurkiw-Braaten said she started to cry when she received a letter saying a shelter was planned for Kingston Avenue.

“I feel so defeated as a hard-working honest, taxpaying citizen of this city. I feel so thrown under the bus, that we don't matter,” she said.

She said she doesn’t believe that the shelter will clean up the area along Rivers Trail, but might increase vandalism, break-ins and theft.

Yurkiw-Braaten said she and her husband are now thinking about leaving Kamloops.

“We will be leaving Kamloops after 40 years. … I love my house, I love my neighbours. I love my neighbourhood. But I’m being forced out,” she said.

Other Westmount and Schubert residents have also spoken out against the shelter location. As of Monday evening, a change.org petition opposing the shelter has received 845 signatures in three days.

“We recognize the need for more available beds in Kamloops for our homeless population. But we ask that this project be moved to a more suitable area, not right in between two family oriented neighbourhoods,” the petition reads.

“We do not welcome the unwanted activities that surround our local shelters. We need a better solution!”

On Monday morning, a fence surrounding the Kingston Avenue property was plastered with signs reading “Do not allow this shelter to be built! The time is now, fight back.” A significant portion of the fencing had also been toppled over.

It is unclear at this time who is responsible for putting up the signs.

When contacted on Monday afternoon, Coun. Kathy Sinclair said she wasn’t aware of the signs, but said it’s important to remember there are about 100 unhoused people in Kamloops that need a roof over their heads.

“As a North Shore resident, I can empathize and I can appreciate the concern, but to us at the council, by and large, it's really important to give folks a place to go. It’s for their safety, and it's for the good of the whole community,” Sinclair said.

“Unfortunately, it seems that nobody really wants a homeless shelter or subsidized housing or supportive housing in their neighbourhood, but it has to go somewhere. So in this case, BC Housing has moved forward with this location and as a whole, council supports it.”

Mazzotta said there are three virtual information sessions planned for the community to attend and ask questions of the city, BC Housing, and Canadian Mental Health Association — who will be operating the facilities.

A session for the shelter at Stuart Wood will be held on Dec. 7, the Kingston Avenue property will be addressed on Dec. 8, and the Greyhound Bus depot shelter on Dec. 15.

“It'll be an information session to talk about the need for shelter space, how will operate,” Mazzotta said.

“The city will be there to speak about the process, how it came to be, and then there will be time for attendees to ask questions about the project.”

Mazzotta said residents can register on the BC Housing Let’s Talk pages for the sessions.


Heritage society turning over St. Andrews on the Square to city, president says

St. Andrews handed to city

Kamloops Heritage Society will no longer be operating and maintaining St. Andrews on the Square after pandemic-related restrictions have caused an ongoing shortfall in booking revenues.

Sheila Park, KHS board of directors president, sent a letter to Mayor Ken Christian in early November, advising him the board was declining a lease extension that would have allowed KHS to continue operating the building until December 2023.

Park told Castanet the society will be transitioning responsibility for the building’s operations to the city by Dec. 31 after 26 years of caring for the heritage site.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” Park said.

St. Andrews on the Square, a nearly 135 year-old building located at Second Avenue and Seymour Street downtown, is the oldest public building in Kamloops.

While the former Presbyterian church is city owned, KHS has operated it since 1995, helping to fully restore the building.

In 2019, city council decided not to renew KHS's lease, with the intent of assuming facility operations. However, Park said residents supported the society who were petitioning to keep control of the site, and were eventually provided a new lease from the city in February 2020.

Since then, Park said the society has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the facility never fully closed, revenue from event bookings — which pays for building operations, upkeep and a staff member — sharply declined.

In addition, Park said their staff member announced their intention to retire, meaning the society would need to hire someone new.

Park said it costs over $1,000 per month to operate the building, and even with a $12,000 grant provided by the city earlier in the pandemic to help them run, the society’s projected income will not support employment and ongoing monthly costs.

“We could not, in all consciousness, hire someone and continue to pay their salary based on the rentals that we have right now with the limitations based on COVID,” Park said.

“Our rental income just dropped off totally. And that's what pays the salary of the person. That's how we maintain the building,” Park said.

Park said in July, when KHS requested the lease extension from the city, COVID-19 looked like it was on the decline.

“We were getting back to normal to some degree. And then there was the delta variant. And now, of course, we couldn't predict the South African variant. But we could see the writing was on the wall, that COVID wasn't really going anywhere,” she said.

According to Park, KHS has already met with the city — including Barbara Berger, the city’s recreation, social development and culture manager — to plan the transition.

Castanet reached out to Berger for comment, but didn’t receive a response in time for publication.

“[Berger] knows the building, she knows what the rentals can be,” Park said, explaining that because of the heritage nature of the building, it can’t be rented out to all groups.

“We will get together again and we’ll be working that out. And some of the items in the building will be transferred to the city, in some form.”

Christian told Castanet he understands it's been a difficult time for KHS when it comes to event rentals and cancelled bookings, as it has been for the city.

"They want to give that responsibility back to the city, and we will take that over with thanks to them. They've done an excellent job over the years of both preserving the integrity of that space, but also making it available for public events, and in particular, some of the weddings and art events and craft events." Christian said.

"It's been a good run."

Park said after the transition, some of the board members plan to continue the Kamloops Heritage Society, regrouping and looking into other heritage activities.

She said it wasn’t an easy decision for any of the KHS members.

“We had to make the decision and discuss with our staff person and that was difficult too, her retirement makes it a little easier. But still, it's not easy,” Park said.

“It's a beautiful building. I just love being there, as do all the other board members and volunteers. But you know, it is what it is. It’ll still be there.”

Little Shuswap band suing industrial company, alleging 'contaminated' land

'Contaminated' land lawsuit

A Kamloops-area First Nation is suing an industrial company, alleging it “contaminated” band lands.

The Little Shuswap Lake Band filed a notice of civil claim in BC. Supreme Court last week against Enviro-Sorb Wood Shavings Inc. and Trevor Kuryvial, described in the court document as the company’s principal.

According to the document, Enviro-Sorb signed a 10-year-lease with the band that expired at the end of last year. Terms of a permit agreement referenced in the notice of claim state the company was prohibited from leaving waste in the area or any kind of contamination.

The agreement required the company to remove all works, repair all damage and “leave the permit area in good condition.”

In the document, the band claims Enviro-Sorb failed to clean up “in a manner that allowed chemicals, toxins and other contaminants to be spilled on the ground, thereby contaminating the soil.” The band also alleges the company failed to “remove buildings and other fixtures from the land at the termination of the permit period.”

According to the band, Enviro-Sorb overstayed its permit by five months. In that time, the band said it demanded remediation work that was never completed.

“Following the refusal, neglect and/or failure of Kuryvial and Enviro-Sorb to remediate the contamination of and waste to the land, [the band] has remediated and continues to remediate the land so that it is or will become free of contamination and waste,” the claim reads.

The band is asking a judge to award damages and costs, though no dollar amount is set out.

Kuryvial and Enviro-Sorb will have 21 days to respond once they’ve been served. None of the allegations in the claim have been proven in court.


Donations to Mustard Seed to be matched on Giving Tuesday, organization says

Mustard Seed raising funds

The Mustard Seed is asking Kamloops residents to help raise $100,000 — funds that will be put towards to programs and services for those living rough — on Giving Tuesday.

According to a statement from the organization, Fairfield Watson, a Calgary-based consulting firm, will be matching all donations given to the Mustard Seed up until Tuesday at midnight.

“Be a part of this global day of giving and help us reach our goal of $100,000,” the Mustard Seed said in a statement.

“Together, we can provide vital programs and services to our neighbours experiencing homelessness, hunger and poverty in our city.”

Donations to the Mustard Seed can be made through their website.

TNRD opens resilience centre to provide answers and support for Merritt flood evacuees

Resources for evacuees

The City of Merritt and TNRD have established a resiliency centre for flood-affected residents of Merritt and the surrounding area.

The resiliency centre, designed to provide ongoing support to evacuees, will be open daily from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Merritt Civic Centre on Mamette Avenue.

The centre will help answer questions and provide resources for evacuees and those allowed to return to their homes.

The Red Cross and ESS will both be on site, as will Disaster Financial Assistance and Disaster Psychosocial Services.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada and a number of insurance companies will be available to provide advice and help property owners file insurance claims. Other agencies that will have information available include Interior Health, the First Nations Health Authority, Service BC, Technical Safety BC, ICBC, TNRD/Merritt Debris Management and Service Canada.

Services are available for residents who have experienced flooding who live in Merritt or surrounding unincorporated communities and Indigenous communities.

Hundreds in Merritt, surrounding area still without power following Nov. 15 flooding

300-plus still without power

UPDATE: 4:10 p.m.

There are still 330 properties without power in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, with crews working Monday to restore infrastructure and respond to outages around Merritt and Coldwater Road, according to BC Hydro.

Sally MacDonald, a community relations representative for BC Hydro, spoke at a virtual TNRD public information meeting on Monday afternoon, advising most of the outages are affecting the Merritt area.

MacDonald said there are 137 properties still without power in the City of Merritt, 111 between Merritt and Brookmere, and 91 are without power along the Highway 8 corridor.

“The customers who are out in the Thompson-Nicola region, we don't yet have an estimated restoration time because it will depend on the rebuilding of our infrastructure in those areas,” she said.

“We're carefully watching the weather system, and we’ll be able to safely demobilize our crews should the weather demand it, so that we can continue to respond to outages and help as much as we can.”

She said BC Hydro is also supporting other agencies with restoration efforts along Highway 1, Highway 8, Coldwater Road and the Coquihalla Highway.

“That work includes gaining access and building stable ground that our infrastructure can be built on to,” MacDonald said.

She said crews would be attempting to gain access to the Dot Ranch area along Highway 8 — about halfway between Merritt and Spences Bridge — in order to assess repairs along that route.

Ian Wood, director of clinical operations for Thompson South Cariboo primary community care, said the emergency department at Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt is open as of noon on Monday, closing at 6:30 p.m.

Wood said emergency will be running through the week from 7:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

“We will have COVID testing back again at the site, same location as it was previously deployed. This will be running Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Lots of space available,” Wood said.

He said COVID-19 vaccines will also be administered on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

“This will be available for the dose one and dose two drop-ins, and we also have boosters and ages five to 11 [for] appointment only,” Wood said.

ORIGINAL STORY: 10:11 a.m.

City officials in Merritt got good news on Monday morning, after temporary diking and stabilization efforts held a rising Coldwater River at bay overnight.

The Coldwater River, which spilled its banks earlier this month and caused widespread damage, rose quickly again on Sunday. The river peaked at 2.738 metres in height just before 10 p.m. — well short of its peak of 3.455 metres in height on Nov. 15.

City of Merritt emergency operations centre spokesman Alan Stebbing told Castanet a lot of work went into shoring up riverbanks and erecting temporary dikes.

“We’re happy to report that the reinforcement of the dikes and the riverbanks that our city crews and the military were able to do actually held the water and there was no significant flooding,” Stebbing said, noting crews are now assessing the situation in the city.

“Of course, we’re also focused on the next storm that is looking like it may hit B.C., and wanting to make sure that we’re prepared for that.”

The rising waters on Sunday prompted city officials in Merritt to pause a program that had been seeing residents in low-lying areas still under evacuation order allowed to return for daylight visits. Those visits will resume on Monday, the city said.

The Coldwater River had dropped substantially as of Monday morning, showing a height of 2.304 metres just before 9 a.m.

Stebbing said the success the city had on Sunday night was significant.

“It was huge and, as I said, there’s been a huge effort that’s gone into this with city crews, with contractors, with crews from other communities and, of course, the military,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty incredible that we’ve been able to keep what — prior to this flood — would have been a concerning amount of water in the Coldwater. With everything being destroyed, being able to keep the flood out, I think, was a herculean effort for everyone.”

Kamloops Search and Rescue was out this weekend probing an area it had previously examined in search for missing Shannon White

KSAR search again for White

At the request of RCMP, Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) retraced its steps this past weekend in the case of Shannon White, the Kamloops woman who has been missing since Nov. 1.

Police had KSAR return to search an area it had previously examined, which 14 members, including some from Barriere, Wells Gray and Logan Lake search and rescue teams, conducted on Saturday, Nov. 27, over a nine-hour period.

“Just to make sure we covered it off well,” said Alan Hobler, Kamloops Search and Rescue manager.

He said no other searches for White are planned at the moment, but added KSAR will again return if requested to do so by the RCMP.

Hobler said he could not comment on why police tasked KSAR with searching the area this past weekend, nor could he specify the location or confirm what, if anything, came of the search as it is an open RCMP file.

“It’s up to the RCMP to release that information,” Hobler said.

Kamloops RCMP had KSAR searching for White in areas north and west of the city for nearly two weeks earlier this month before factors such as snowfall, fatigue and an extensive examination of the areas led to the KSAR’s efforts being called off.

At that time, KSAR and the RCMP were searching the wilderness west of Kamloops off Highway 1 and north of the city off Highway 5, including in Heffley Creek, for White.

White, 32, went missing on the morning of Nov. 1 when she left in her Jeep from her Bestwick Court home in Lower Sahali. Her destination was her job at Kamloops Hyundai on Notre Dame Drive in the Southgate area, a two-kilometre distance.

She hasn’t been seen our heard from since, but her black 1997 Jeep TJ was found abandoned the next afternoon, Nov. 2, downtown in the 200-block of Nicola Street.

Kamloops RCMP has since revealed they had sightings of White’s vehicle the day she went missing. It was spotted shortly after she was supposed to have arrived at work at 8:30 a.m., instead leaving Kamloops on Highway 1 for a 45-minute period. It was spotted again at about 5:30 p.m. driving north past Rayleigh on Highway 5 before returning south at about 6:15 p.m.

White’s landlords, Quinn and Matt Hatch, have said the morning White went missing was like any other.

Quinn said she was sitting in her vehicle, waiting for the windows to fully defrost, when she believes she saw White, dressed for work, walking up the driveway toward her Jeep.

Quinn drove away first, noting she didn’t see White enter her vehicle, nor did she she see anyone with her at the time.

Minutes later, Matt, from inside the house, saw the Jeep TJ driving out of the cul-de-sac street and turn left in its usual direction toward White’s work, though he said he did not see White enter the vehicle, nor did he see who was driving it.

Police have also searched the travel trailer of White’s ex-boyfriend as it sat in the Silver Sage Trailer Court off Highway 5, across from Sun Rivers. Her friends have said the two had a tumultuous relationship and breakup about a year ago.

Kamloops RCMP have yet to charge anyone in connection to the disappearance and will not say if anyone has been arrested.

Kamloops RCMP’s serious crimes unit is investigating the disappearance and Hobler has said the case is a possible homicide investigation.

White stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 180 pounds. She is white and has blond hair, green eyes and fair skin. White sometimes wears glasses, has a Medusa lip piercing and a tongue piercing and several large arm tattoos, including a portrait of her dog, Buddy.

Her Jeep is a black 1997 TJ model with the B.C. licence plate KA0 22N. It has a turquoise palm print decal on the driver’s side mirror and a turquoise ‘Wander Lust’ decal on the passenger side of the hood. with a circular pattern between the two words.

Crime Stoppers jackpot approaching $7K with ticket sales closing Tuesday

Crime Stoppers jackpot $7K

If you want a chance to win a $7,000 jackpot while helping keep Kamloops streets safe, time is running out.

The Kamloops Crime Stoppers Holiday 50/50 fundraiser closes on Tuesday. Program manager Orville Mundy told Castanet the jackpot is approaching $7,000.

Mundy said the raffle is the organization’s biggest annual revenue generator, and is crucial to its continued operation.

“It keeps the program running,” he said.

“It covers our operating expenses. The program basically runs off very little support anymore from the city. The money that is generated is used to keep the program operating.”

Anyone looking to buy a ticket can do so by clicking here.

Skeetchestn band closes its school for the week due to cluster of COVID-19 cases

School closed due to cases

A Kamloops-area school is closed for the week due to an influx in COVID-19 cases.

Skeetchestn Community School will be closed to in-person learning this week, planning to welcome students back into classrooms on Dec. 7.

In a letter sent to school families on Friday, principal Bryce Ross said school staff would put together homework packages for each student and deliver them to doorsteps by Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

“We understand that this is not an ideal situation,” Ross said in the letter.

“However, we discussed that it is of utmost importance to shut down the school now and limit any further spread of the virus. Further, we have completed a deep clean of our school building and bus.”

It’s not clear how many cases have been linked to the school, located off Deadman-Vidette Road on the Skeetchestn reserve northwest of Savona. In the letter, Ross said the decision to close for the week was made “due to another two positive COVID-19 cases” discovered late last week.

Ross encouraged anyone in the school community showing symptoms to get tested for COVID-19.

Nufloors Kamloops gives chance to win two-night stay at Sun Peaks Grand

Win two nights in Sun Peaks

Nufloors Kamloops is giving Castanet readers the chance to win a two-night stay at the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel and Conference Centre. To enter or for more information, click here.

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