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‘They need to be in’: Woman who lived rough in Salmon Arm worried about people tenting

Shuswap MLA wants lack of emergency shelter treated as an emergency by B.C. government
Sandy Bunting, who lives nearby but formerly lived rough, cleans up pieces of wood and things near the tent camp across from the Salvation Army building on Third Street SE. She said there should be a place for people who are homeless to get inside during the freezing temperatures, particularly during the day, so they can warm up and dry out. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)

It’s -12 C and a cold wind is amplifying the icy bite of the air. It’s Thursday morning, Dec. 1, about 9 a.m.

Sandy Bunting is busy picking up discarded pieces of wood and putting them in a bin, tidying up the area next to the tents that sit under trees across from the Salvation Army building on 3rd Street SE.

She stops for a minute to talk.

“I’m really proud of them, there’s hardly any garbage anymore,” she said of the seven people currently living in the tents.

She had been living rough in Salmon Arm for six years but recently moved into nearby Cedar Place, the 38-unit building for people who are without homes or at risk of becoming homeless. It opened in November 2021, a project of the Shuswap-Revelstoke branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), in partnership with BC Housing and the City of Salmon Arm.

Although she has moved into housing, she cares a lot about the people in tents. She hopes the town will open something soon.

“It is so cold out here and they need to be in, in the daytime. Nighttime they can curl up together. But daytime there’s nowhere they can go to drink coffee and just relax. They can’t relax. All day long out here. It’s very, very cold.”

Read more: 2020 - Freezing cold emphasizes need for drop-in centre for Salmon Arm’s homeless

Read more: 2019 - Homeless tenters must move for four-laning preparation

She said some people are getting sick from being wet all the time. And she expresses her appreciation and pride for them all managing to live and survive in tents.

Bunting also said everyone appreciates all the help community members have been providing. She said blankets and tarps are always welcome, as are mittens, socks and jackets.

And she expresses her appreciation for Cedar Place. 

“Everybody that works there is so positive, they say positive things to you every day. You’re like, ‘what the heck.’ And it makes you feel like you’re actually cared about.”

She said she understands staffing at Cedar Place has improved over time and is now “amazing.” Things like bingo nights and movie nights stop residents who might have otherwise gone outside and done drugs or alcohol, she explained.

“Now we’re focusing on ourselves. But I still focus on them,” she says of the tenters. “I’ve changed so much… I had my first shower in there and holy, I didn’t know my hair was dirty. I was washing in the river but with cold water. And we hardly ever got to have showers…”

Read more: VIDEO: Third building in Salmon Arm’s affordable housing project opens doors

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo is also concerned about the lack of a shelter in Salmon Arm, particularly during the freezing temperatures.

He said he knows “with absolute certainty” of a Salmon Arm resident who offered up two parcels as potential lease sites but nothing has proceeded.

Kyllo said the housing minister met with him for 10 minutes on Nov. 24 when he also had an extended conversation with BC Housing.

He said he heard concerns about things like zoning and locations, but no remedies or definite dates.

Kyllo suggested solutions such as the ministry overriding zoning when necessary, contacting the First Nations bands regarding locations, or setting up a camp with trailers like those used in northern work camps.

He said BC Housing and the B.C. government are responsible for housing and have known about the need for a shelter since at least May when the Salvation Army closed the Lighthouse Emergency Shelter for good.

“The sad reality is, here we are at December 1st with temperatures freezing and snow on the ground.”

He said the B.C. government’s statement about having trouble locating a site “doesn’t provide much comfort for someone freezing in a tent.”

“If you’re saying it’s an emergency, then act like it’s an emergency.”

Read more: Funding in place but search for shelter site for those without homes so far fruitless

Glenda Cooper, CMHA’s manager of supporting homefulness, said the association’s homeless outreach coordinator sees about 30 people regularly in Salmon Arm who are living rough.

“We know there are more we don’t see,” she added.

She said warm toques, mitts and socks are always welcome.

“Any warm-weather gear is super appreciated.”

Such donations can be dropped off at the CMHA’s Hudson Thrift Shoppe, Mondays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon. She asked that it be earmarked for people who are unhoused.

BC Housing was contacted for an update on a shelter and said it will provide a response to the Observer, possibly by the end of the day.

Read more: Students try living rough in Salmon Arm through 24-hour experiment
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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