The encampment in Baker Creek is gone.
For several weeks, a sprawling tarp structure has been erected primarily by Jolene LaBelle along with five or six full-time co-residents and even more part-time friends and supporters. None of them has a home, and they claim to be either kicked out or made to feel uncomfortable at the existing emergency shelters in Quesnel. Their last resort was the makeshift abode built on a gravel bar in the path of Baker Creek, after being shuffled out of other locations by City officials.
It was the City of Quesnel’s bylaw services department that took down the Baker Creek encampment, after plenty of notice and consultation with LaBelle and the tent’s community.
Tanya Turner, Quesnel’s director of development services, said the cleanup took two days and included the help of “a number of social, health and housing agencies” that included the Ministry of Poverty Reduction, the transitional housing coordinator from the Quesnel Shelter & Support Society, a psychiatric nurse, the RCMP (including from their Mobile Crisis Intervention Team), and the decriminalization community engagement coordinator.
“Additionally,” said Turner, “a personal friend of the individual in the camp was in attendance and took away personal items to store for this individual.”
Part of the urgency for the cleanup, said Turner, was the fact the tent was in the middle of the creek. The water is low, now, but an ice jam that breaks free, or eventually the spring freshet would put the residents in harm’s way. In a recent conversation The Observer had with LaBelle inside the tent, she also acknowledged the inevitable worry this posed.
In addition to cold, wet people, having the little river wash through the encampment would also scatter a huge inventory of random possessions around the localized watershed. Turner said the contents of the cleanup were weighed, for reference.
“City crews removed 1,240 kilograms on the first day and utilized four 10-yard dumptruck loads from the camp with a weight of 3,150 kilograms on Friday. Grand total weight removed from the camp was 4,390 kilograms (9,658 pounds).”
A crew of 11 municipal staff did this cleanup work, utilized from bylaw and public works departments.
“Bylaw worked diligently with this individual and the agencies listed above to gain a voluntary removal of the site,” Turner said. “The occupant refused assistance from the agencies in attendance trying to assist.”
A week at a local hotel was offered as a transition shelter, while other arrangements could be made with the committed help of local support agencies. That offer was not taken, immediately, but Turner assured that it was not a one-time offer, and those supports would be available if needed.
“The agencies continue to reach out to offer assistance to this individual as well as (the bylaw department) continues to watch for this individual to continue to provide wellness checks. It is understood she is currently with the friend who was on site during the removal of the accumulated materials.”