'We are just going to take it away': City of Kelowna tells people not to donate supplies to homeless camp

With temperatures dropping below -10 C at night in Kelowna this week, resident Bill Ferguson felt he had to do something for the homeless people sleeping overnight in the city's designated camping park. 

On Thursday, Ferguson took a tent heater to the park in the city's north end with plans to give it to one of the campers.

"I talked to one of the bylaw officers and immediately he said, 'No, no, no. We are just going to take it away from them,'" Ferguson said.

"And I was just kinda, 'Really?' And I didn't know what else to say to him."

According to Ferguson, a homeless camper who overheard the conversation walked forward and asked if he could take the tent heater.

"The bylaw officers were telling him that no, he could not take it even though we were outside the fenced-off area [of the city park]," Ferguson said. 

"This is a flameless heater designed to be inside a tent."

Chris Walker/CBC

Ferguson left the homeless camp with his tent heater, feeling dismayed that he was unable to help a man who he says clearly was feeling the effects of the cold and wind.

"I was just kinda shocked at the thought that [the bylaw officer] is going home to a warm house tonight and probably couldn't care less. He was just doing his job," he said.

This week, the City of Kelowna shut down a burgeoning tent city in the downtown core and opened two city-owned parks for overnight camping in the city's north end.

The city's shelters are full and a site for an emergency shelter has yet to be secured, despite provincial funding being available for at least three weeks.

Both the province and the city have deflected responsibility for finding a location for a cold weather shelter in Kelowna.

The city has faced criticism for its handling of the homelessness crisis both from people demanding it open a winter shelter space and residents in the north end who say the homeless camp will result in crime and safety concerns in the neighbourhood.

Not equipped to handle donated items

Tom Wilson, Kelowna's communications manager, said in an email that city staff at the park are not equipped to handle people bringing items to the site, citing crowded conditions and the difficulty managing who would have priority getting the donated items.

"The organizers are providing additional warming items — more blankets and toques and mittens, hot-shots," Wilson wrote.

Despite being turned away with his tent heater, Ferguson said he was not giving up trying to help the homeless campers. 

Rather, he and a few friends were planning to buy pizzas to take to the homeless camp on Friday evening.