Some of the metal items collected and sorted during Tuesday’s clean up of the homeless encampment off Comox Road. Photo by Jolene Rudisuela

Homeless encampment vacated following complaints of increasing garbage and crime

Crews arrived on scene Tuesday to complete the site’s clean up

The homeless camp off Comox Road – an area some have called home for the better part of a year – was quickly dismantled Tuesday as clean-up crews arrived on scene to remove the remaining items and garbage from the site.

The people who had been living on the land adjacent to Hollyhock Conservation Area and the Sewage Pump Station were given notice earlier in the month by the City of Courtenay to vacate the premises by 3:30 p.m. Monday.

READ MORE: Homeless camp at Courtenay estuary being evicted

The City provided temporary secure storage to the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness and their volunteers in order to store any possessions the campers wished to keep while they searched for another place to live. Everything that they could not take with them or no longer wanted was left at the site for Tuesday’s clean-up crew.

John Starchuk, manager of JOMA Environmental Ltd. the company in charge of the cleanup, says they found a little bit of everything on the site, including shampoos, lotions, scrap electronics and lots of propane tanks.

“Everything. Anything you’d see on the side of the road for free,” he said.

All that was left on the site was sorted and what could be recycled was set aside.

The one-day cleanup is estimated to cost $2,500.

READ MORE: Homeless encampments shine light on affordable housing issues in the Comox Valley

READ MORE: Nearly 8,000 homeless in B.C., first province-wide count reveals

JOMA Environmental Ltd. won a contract tender over a year ago to aid in the maintenance of the city’s bigger sites, like the land adjacent to the Field Sawmill site.

Over the winter, the business also came to the site once to do some cleanup and maintenance.

“We’ll come in and do our hazard assessment, look for needles and other threats to the environment and human health, and do our general cleaning,” said Starchuk. “We basically said anything you want to keep, pull it in, anything you don’t want, put it out and we’ll grab it. If they’re not sure what they want to keep or take then we just let them have their stuff.”

However, concern about the cleanliness and safety of the site began to build as more people began to set up camp near the pump station.

According to the City of Courtenay, bylaw had been aware of the camp since it was first set up and had been regularly visiting since last summer. The “tent city” first started as a small encampment closer to the water, but rising water levels over the winter forced them to move closer to the pump station and Comox Road.

The decision to vacate the people living on the property was made following concerns from the Comox Valley RCMP and others about the increasing amount of garbage on the site and increasingly hazardous conditions. The City cited additional reasons including reports of criminal activity and environmental concerns due to the proximity of the site to the estuary.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells says the city had been monitoring the site for months but with growing criminal activity and rising concerns, vacating the site became necessary.

“At the end of the day, there’s more than one tent city and really part of it is looking to see how the encampment is going to unfold – is it going to be something that has a [negative] impact or not,” said Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells. “And I think in this case unfortunately that criminal element really did impact that particular site more than others. Obviously, it’s not ideal in any case but we’d rather not have to evict people.

“If it’s the criminal element we’re dealing with, sometimes a few people can ruin it for the many.”

Wells says affordable housing and addressing homelessness continues to be one of the City’s top priorities and coming up with solutions will involve a combined effort from municipal partners, the provincial and federal governments.

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John Starchik, manager of JOMA Environmental Ltd. the company in charge of the clean up, says they found a little bit of everything on the site, including shampoos, lotions, scrap electronics and lots of propane tanks. Photo by Jolene Rudisuela

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