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Kelowna's Tent City gets new water system after nine months of thirst, filth

The City of Kelowna is working to install a winterized water system to service those living at Tent City
Erica Stewart pictured with a water bottle from Kelowna's Gospel Mission on her last day living at Tent City.

After more than nine months without access to a reliable source of water, residents at Kelowna's city-maintained encampment will be able to quench their thirst and wash their hands in the near future. 

The encampment, called Tent City by those that live there, is gravel-covered plot of land located in Kelowna's north end brewery district, beside the Okanagan Rail Trail. Approximately 110 people have set up shelters and tents at the site.

According to city bylaw, all people experiencing un-sheltered homelessness in Kelowna are required to sleep at Tent City. Security guards, bylaw and sanitation services regularly patrol, enforce regulations and work with residents of the encampment in an effort to keep the space clean and safe for all members of the community. 

Despite the involvement of the City of Kelowna and numerous outreach organizations, many of the residents at Tent City have been thirsty and dirty for the last nine months since the encampment's only water tap was turned off in preparation for the winter, in October 2023. 

When the weather warmed, City of Kelowna staff realized that the tap had suffered subterranean damage and could not be turned back on without repairs, said Kevin Mead, bylaw services manager for the City. 

While bylaw, police and outreach organizations do distribute water bottles, it is not a reliable source of hydration or sanitation, said Paula Chartrand, a resident of Tent City who has been experiencing homelessness for more than six years. 

Since the tap has been out of order, residents of Tent City have been directed to seek supports from outreach organizations like Metro, which is located approximately one kilometre away, or from the shelters located across the City. 

Chartrand explained that the level of mental illness and vulnerability some people are experiencing is so severe, that unless they are handed a bottle of water, they may not drink that day.

She said many people living at Tent City have cognitive or physical disabilities, illness and injury which makes any travel prohibitive.

As a result, "some may go days without water," said Chartrand.

Some people, who asked to remain anonymous, have recently resorted to drinking unfiltered water from the nearby Mill Creek out of desperation. 

On June 12, when Capital News was conducting interviews at Tent City, the Kelowna Gospel Mission dinner truck ran out of bottles of water for the residents. 

An employee with the outreach organization, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Gospel Mission only has the budget to hand out 40 bottles of water each with meal delivery. 

Some local businesses, like PackRat Water Hauling, have taken it upon themselves to donate their services to ensure the people at Tent City stay hydrated. 

Now, a reliable and permanent solution is coming to Tent City. 

Tom Wilson, communications manager with the City of Kelowna said that the city is currently working to implement a more resilient and frost-resistant water system for the encampment.

"The improved model for water will have two new, more heavy-duty, serviceable, and winterized spigots," said Wilson.

In addition to having to be turned off for months at a time during the winter, the old tap was vulnerable to vandalism and was being damaged every four to six weeks, said Wilson.

He said the pipes for the new water system will be buried deep underground, below the freezing level, meaning the water will be able to flow all year. 

The parts for the new system have already been ordered and if all goes according to plan, the new water tap and will hopefully be installed and functional within the next two weeks, said Wilson.

Erica Stewart, a former resident of Kelowna's Tent City and an advocate for those experiencing homelessness said that the new water system cannot come soon enough.

While living at Tent City Stewart experienced multiple periods of drought when the tap was not in service. During those times, she would ration her water, often drinking less than a litre each day. 

She said nearby businesses do not want people from Tent City filling up bottles at their company's spigots or using their bathrooms. 

"I am filthy," said Stewart, on her last day at Tent City before moving into one of 60 tiny homes in the Crawley Avenue Tiny House village, also called STEP Place. 

Stewart said that people need to be able to wash their hands not only to prevent infection, but also to feel their best and have a chance at transitioning out of Tent City. 

Many residents at Tent City have had to go without their primary method of sanitation – wet wipes – since HOPE Outreach shut down on June 7,  said Stewart.

HOPE used to deliver wet wipes and hand sanitizer along with essentials of daily living and harm reduction supplies to Tent City multiple times each week.

Stewart said since HOPE closed, Tent City has not had any deliveries the harm reduction supplies. 

Stewart will continue to advocate for people experiencing un-sheltered homelessness from her new home at STEP Place. 




Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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