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West Kootenay landowners frustrated, cleaning up squatter’s mess

Over 14 truckloads of garbage and recyclables hauled from rural property

A Marsh Creek property owner’s patience has worn thin after a homeless person set up a shelter on their property.

Anne Saigeon contacted the Trail Times to relate how a homeless man set up a large tarp and tent on a remote corner of their 10-acre rural property in January and stayed until June.

“We talked about it and decided it would be really unfair to kick him off the property in the middle of winter, where is he going to go?” said Saigeon.

The longtime resident says the couple approached the squatter in May and asked him to leave then, noting an already growing pile of garbage and various other debris. Another month went by, with no latrine in sight, and the pile of refuse growing along with their concerns.

The property owners eventually called the Trail and Greater District RCMP, who responded and removed the homeless man from the property.

Trail RCMP Sgt. Mike Wicentowich said the situation was unusual, but police are able to enforce trespassing laws to remove squatters, but as for clean up, that was left to the property owners.

“When someone does choose to live in a rural area, there are differences in who is responsible for clean up and reporting,” Wicentowich told the Times. “On private land, it is the owner.

“RCMP can remove people from private land if it isn’t a landlord-tenancy dispute. Those are handled by the Landlord-Tenancy Board. If it is squatting, we can remove the person immediately.”

Given a busy summer, the Saigeons didn’t get to the site until recently and they were shocked at what they saw.

They found several bikes, spray cans, paddles and floats for boats, tackle boxes, electronics such as TVs, DVD players and stereos, a couch, large bath tub, a wheelchair, and a hydraulic pallet jack, not to mention piles of everyday garbage.

“I think a lot of it was stolen,” said Saigeon. “And somebody has been helping him take stuff down there, because there was a couch, and a large metal bathtub — my brother-in-law helped and two of them couldn’t carry it, they had to drag it on a tarp and flip it into the truck.

“There was garbage everywhere … and there was probably 10 bikes and not one of them was usable.”

The Times asked the Trail police if there had been any reports of stolen property within the Village of Fruitvale and Area A that could be linked to the site?

“Trail RCMP does recover stolen property in this manner, and does its best to return it to the rightful owner,” said Wicentowich. “I am not aware of any proven recovered stolen property in this case. It can be difficult to identify as most owners do not report these kind of items or record serial numbers.”

The property owners ended up taking 14 truckloads of garbage and recyclables to the dump and Scrap King and another large truck and trailer load was removed by their neighbour.

Given the circumstances, and pricey cost of tipping fees, they spoke to Area A director Ali Grieve, who went to bat for them and asked for some relief at the McKelvey Creek Landfill, but was unsuccessful.

“The RDKB (Regional District of Kootenay Boundary) has a long-standing policy regarding the waiving of tipping fees at its landfill sites,” Mark Andison, RDKB chief administrator, told the Times. “The policy doesn’t apply in this situation as the property in question is privately-owned and thereby doesn’t meet the intent of the policy.

“The RDKB can certainly appreciate the challenges associated with the situation … the current policy, however, is intended to focus on waivers to community groups performing work for the benefit of the broader community, rather than on waivers for the benefit of private property owners or business purposes.”

The unhoused man has moved on, yet, for those who struggle with disabilities and/or mental illness, they may not be afforded the supports many of the community’s most vulnerable need, particularly in rural areas such as Fruitvale, and Area A.

The Times asked Andison, if there were supports in the area, and if not, should there be?

“The supports for unhoused populations across B.C. provided by a range of agencies tend to be located centrally in the major municipal centres where the effected individuals have ready access to the services that they need on a day-to-day basis (social service agency offices, medical services, transit, food banks, stores, etc.),” said Andison.

Andison did confirm that the RDKB, and other local governments across B.C., have limited authority to remove encampments from public property or Crown land.

He said this is due to legal restrictions established by the courts to protect the rights of unhoused populations, particularly when there aren’t other accommodation alternatives available.

Wicentowich recommends that landowners take action to protect their properties.

“The issue of trespassing is not uncommon in our rural area and there are many ways to tackle it,” he added. “Landowners should survey their properties on a regular basis. Fencing, signs, and surveillance or game cameras are options for landowners. Acceptance, to an extent, may save some lost sleep and grey hairs.”

For Saigeon, it has been a sobering learning experience, where an attempt to show compassion has cost her dearly.

“As you can tell, I am really frustrated about the whole thing,” she shared.

“And I would like people to know, so that they keep an eye on their own property because it is harder getting rid of them (the unhoused) once they are settled.”

Jim Bailey

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