Connecting the dots

Discussion on what to do about itinerant workers' accommodations in the Lower Similkameen

  • Sep. 14, 2011 7:00 p.m.

I read in dismay the article in the September 8 issue in last week’s newspaper The Review about a meeting at Keremeos Village Council chambers with local businesses concerning the transients and their behavior within the village.

First I would have liked to have been there to give some balance to the meeting but was not advised of the meeting taking place. I have been in contact with some of these questionable characters at the campground and would like to have turned them away from the camp.

However, it is not that simple.  I agree that there is “another” element within the campground that needs to be addressed. I have made attempts to get background checks on some of these questionable characters and have been told by the RCMP that they cannot unless they have done something wrong to warrant the check up. As much as I would like to eliminate these persons I have no authority to do so within the confines of my mandate for the campground.

The campground is located on Crown land. with no tenure granted because it sits on a flood plain, which as we saw floods in the spring, making it impossible to camp until the river subsides. The other concern for tenure would be the use of potable water available to the camp, which could be done with minimal expense but would not be allowed by the village.

So with these restrictions this camp site has been intended to be a temporary solution with minimal amenities such as porta potties, garbage pick up, fire barrels for safe cooking areas and a few picnic tables with an attendant seeing to the day to day clean up of the camp which is a part time paid position. This camp was created to help deter the campers from camping at Pine Park and for the most part it has done so, however finding another suitable place has not materialized or presented itself to date. The fact that there are no showers or laundry facility in the village makes it difficult as well.

My question is: would there be any less incidence if the camp were elsewhere, like say Cawston? Wouldn’t the farm workers still need to come into Keremeos to obtain their supplies?  I find complaining and pointing fingers is not the answer. If we are to find a solution we all need to work together. My temporary solution for a campground is obviously not likely to continue with our hands tied for control of the camp and after hearing all the complaints I doubt we will be able to continue on this path.

We know that the agricultural industry needs workers to come to the area to do the jobs no one else wants to do. So influxes of people from all walks of life come here to work as well as enjoy the surroundings. How we decipher, more importantly, what gives us the right as to who should be here and who should not? If there is a crime done then the RCMP will prosecute as with any criminal. Many folks believe it is the farmer who should be solely responsible for these people.  We can go back and forth for many years and for that matter we have, 30 years to be exact, and the issue is still with us.

Since a tenured campground is difficult to obtain (for lack of available land, funds etc.) with the farmers making an effort to house these people once they are in their employment then it makes sense to me to create a youth hostel type situation whereby the Canadian itinerant worker can come to a place when he/she arrives,  have a shower, have use of a common kitchen and laundry facilities at a reasonable fee with limited time allowed to stay in the hostel until they find a job with a farmer who will give them proper accommodations. Persons who are not interested in working would only be able to stay a few nights (many hostels have these rules in place) and therefore would be discouraged to stay in the area if there isn’t any place to camp either. Of course we would need the help of the police and the by-laws officer to keep this in check. If the government can help farmers hire Mexicans for the long term (a six month season) why not help the smaller farmers with intermittent available jobs for the itinerant workers who are mostly Canadian by partially funding a youth hostel type accommodation.

I see this as an opportunity for someone to establish this service with perhaps some monies coming from the agricultural sector, including the Ministry of Agriculture and some government help as well. The details could be worked out but the concept certainly needs consideration if we are to make any headway on this issue. I encourage the local politicians; business people and local residence to consider a solution to this and not to dismiss it as they have in the past. This issue is not going to go away. Solutions do not come from defeating initiatives but rather putting people’s ideas together to work for all.

The Similkameen Farmworkers Campground Society


By Doe Gregoire – Chair of the Similkameen Farworkers Campground Society