Provincial, federal help needed to address homelessness, recurring vandalism on B.C. fairgrounds: councillor

·2 min read
The Salmon Arm Fairgrounds have been a target of vandals for several years, according to the fair's organizer, the non-profit Salmon Arm and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association. (City of Salmon Arm - image credit)
The Salmon Arm Fairgrounds have been a target of vandals for several years, according to the fair's organizer, the non-profit Salmon Arm and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association. (City of Salmon Arm - image credit)

For more than seven decades, the annual Salmon Arm Fair has brought joy to residents and tourists in B.C.'s Shuswap region with its variety of rides, animal shows and more.

But it recently hasn't been fun for Jim McEwan, the fair's co-ordinator, who's had to repair damaged facilities after the three-day fair ended on Sept. 11.

"The saddest thing is that it's senseless vandalism — it's broken doors, broken windows, broken boards, a lot of tagging graffiti," he told CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker on Wednesday.

McEwan says the vandalism has been occurring at the southern Interior fairgrounds for several years, costing its non-profit operator Salmon Arm and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association thousands of dollars — to replace damaged security fencing, install security cameras and hire security guards.

While some of the vandalism occurred during the fair, McEwan says most of it took place throughout the year, particularly during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the fair was cancelled due to provincial health restrictions.

He claims people living with homelessness and addiction have broken into the fairgrounds to sleep.

"Usually by the time the security arrives on site, the perpetrators have left and the damage has been done," he said.

Submitted by Jim McEwan
Submitted by Jim McEwan

The City of Salmon Arm estimates there are 50 to 60 people living with homelessness in the municipality, many of whom experience mental health challenges.

According to the city, there are 46 emergency shelter beds in the community for people experiencing mental health challenges. Data from B.C. Housing shows there are more than 250 non-market housing units in Salmon Arm.

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren, the city's representative on the Agricultural Association's board, says the city, Mounties and fire department have been holding monthly meetings with the non-profit since the fall of 2020, after they noticed a surge of break-ins and vandalism in the fairgrounds during the pandemic.

Lindgren says city council has worked hard to approve basement suites as rental units to address housing supply issues, but at the end of the day, it is the province's and federal government's responsibility to make long-term efforts to fix them.

"We know that mental health and addictions are on the rise all over the province. Homelessness is higher than ever before.

"This is the provincial and federal mandate, and it's really important that municipalities and councils continue to reach out and partner with their provincial and federal counterparts to try and find real solutions that work over the long haul," she said.

Meanwhile, McEwan says the association has no plans to raise the annual fair's admission fees — $11 for adults, for instance — to help cover repair costs, and asks neighbours in the area to keep an eye out for vandalism on the fairgrounds and report it to police.