Three days a week, KU-UUS Crisis Line community outreach worker Kara Bryant travels from Port Alberni to distribute essential goods like food, warm clothes and camping gear to clients living in Tofino, Ucluelet and on the Kennedy Watershed backroads.
Even with hundreds of campers flooding the backroads this summer, Bryant said the influx hasn’t been a drain on KU-UUS services but rather, she’s happy to see her reach grow thanks to word-of-mouth and social media. KU-UUS currently helps about 12 people living out on the forestry service roads.
“We have enough service available to everybody. We don’t discriminate against people,” she says.
“Everybody has there own reason that takes them down that road. Some, they have mental illness or they’re running from something or hiding from something. Some just want to live the dream of Tofino and Ucluelet and are digging in their heels and trying to hold out until they hold a place. Seems like housing is very hard to find in that area.”
Due to high unemployment and campsite closures, the traffic at Kennedy Lake Watershed logging roads and other forestry roads throughout the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACDR) has increased since the onset COVID-19.
The ACRD currently does not have an existing bylaw service to tackle the issue, but plan on having a multi-jurisdictional meeting soon to determine next steps. Gating the Kennedy Watershed and/or increasing patrols are all on the table.
“If they block off that [Kennedy] Main, I don’t believe they will be able to get rid of the people that squat. They will just find another area,” says Bryant.
In the province of British Columbia, Canadians and non-Canadians may camp on designated Crown land for up to 14 consecutive calendar days.
Fish and Loaves president John Enns thinks the District of Tofino needs to allocate district lands as permanent spot for workers to live.
“The district has an obligation to take care of their workers as do employers. We are getting a new mayor and hopefully with a change in council they will be a little friendlier to people who are working here and need a place to stay because frankly they can’t afford to live here. If you’re working at an entry-level job, you can’t afford rent, which is now going up. It used to be about $800 for a single person and now it’s pushing $2000 for a small studio apartment,” Enns told the Westerly News after Tuesday’s food distribution at the Tofino Legion.
“Employers could get together and create a campground and each have shares like three or four campsites, the important thing is it would be managed properly and we wouldn’t have to worry about trash,” he went on to say.
In 2018, the Town of Canmore in Alberta launched the Safe Overnight Parking pilot program to address the lack of affordable housing for people working in their community and living out of vehicles. Participants pay a $10.00/night for use of the parking lot, and each site is equipped with a bear-safe garbage bin and access to a maintained porta-potty or washroom facility.
Bryant notes that the people suffering the most during COVID-19 are the ones that are without a home base. Moreover, the Town of Canmore put its Safe Overnight Parking program on pause due to the Coronavirus.
“One thing [my clients] always ask me is, ‘Where can I get a hot shower? [Tofino-Ucluelet] feels like a gated community. They only really want a certain kind of demographic. It’s very closed off to those that are not wealthy or stabilized. People that come in, usually it’s their only choice is to squat,” Bryant says.
She would like to see a “Warming Centre” on the Coast, much like the one in Port Alberni. Ideally, notes Bryant, it would have showers as well as laundry facilities.
A mountain of garbage
During a fall backroads clean up event hosted by Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and Central Westcoast Forest Society, over 100 volunteers removed 18, 750 pounds of garbage from the Kennedy Watershed in one day alone.
Lim Ona, 22, currently lives in a van on the Kennedy backroads. Originally from Nanaimo, Ona moved to the forestry road in the summer, and never left.
“It’s not easy to live somewhat distanced from society. I recommended a few things to the B.C. Recreation sites and trails official. One was to have a dumpster at the top of the bridge that’s emptied every other week and to have another outhouse,” he says.
“I’ve been sitting on bags of garbage for weeks because I don’t have anyway to get it out. But, I’m doing my best to keep it under control and away from the animals.”
The Westerly sent a message to Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks regarding the Kennedy Watershed, but it was not returned by press time. To learn more about KUU-US Crisis Line Society, visit: https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/about.