When the encampment Kat Salmon had been living in for months in Brandon was recently torn down, she lost much more than just her home.
“They destroyed a whole bunch of our stuff,” Salmon said. “My tent was wrecked, the poles were wrecked. One of my laptops, one of my neighbour’s laptops were wrecked. A bunch of other stuff was missing and wrecked. We’re not happy.”
Salmon, who has been living on the streets of Brandon for six years, had most recently been living at a campsite with four others near the railway tracks by Pacific Avenue. The site was hidden behind a hill in the trees and included tarps, tents and bags filled with people’s belongings.
On Wednesday it was dismantled by the Canadian Pacific rail police, which patrols the railway, due to safety concerns.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Pacific Kansas City Police (CPKC) said Thursday the camp was encroaching on railroad property and near an active railroad line and officers worked with local police and community outreach workers to remove it.
Salmon acknowledges encampment tear-downs are a normal part of her life, so she keeps her most valuable possessions on her at all times. She has already moved twice since her tent was torn down Wednesday.
She said her group tries to find discreet places to camp to try and “stay out of sight, out of mind.” But she added it’s difficult to find a safe space to store her things and finding affordable housing is almost impossible.
“We just need to find a place that we’re able to put our stuff up and be safe.”
Setting up a new camp
Salmon says she’s grateful for a community group in Brandon that helped her group find new gear — including a tent and tarps.
Ask Auntie— a program funded through the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation that offers a range of social supports — has been trying to work with people who have had their shelters removed, according to coordinator Florence Halcrow.
She and a representative with the City of Brandon spoke with the CPKC Police on Wednesday shortly after Salmon’s camp and a few others were dismantled, to ask that things be handled differently in the future.
“The hope is for better coordination and communication before coming so service providers can work with occupants to safely move their items off of railway property,” wrote Shannon Salterelli, Community Housing and Wellness coordinator for the City of Brandon.
At Ask Auntie, staff’s key concern is giving clients emotional support, while trying to find alternative shelter and a safe place to stay at night.
“When a person’s encampment gets pulled down, it’s like us when we lose our homes to fire or floods and we’re displaced,” Halcrow said. “We try to give them that emotional support and give them the reassurance that they’re going to be OK.”
Tear-downs push clients into an extreme survival mode as they are on limited funds and need to replace what they have lost, she added, which creates a ripple effect of mental health crises and crime as people try to find a new place to live.
She added the barriers vulnerable people face increase when they experience displacement from an encampment.
“This is something that’s not talked about when it comes to the homeless population very much,” Halcrow said. “The thing is now we’re starting to get … more support from community organizations that are starting to be more aware of what’s happening.”
People who have had their encampments dismantled will likely try to find another place to set up shelter, according to Heather Bolech, manager of Brandon’s Safe and Warm Shelter.
But some will come to the shelter for other services, check in or see if they can get blankets or other necessities, she said.
During the summer the shelter has seen between 28 to about 40 people sleeping overnight, with around 40 to 45 people checking in each night looking to use the bathroom, grab some food and leave, Bolech said.
The shelter’s capacity is 41 beds.
Housing and heat a concern
When encampments are removed, two of the biggest concerns are the heat and the need for new housing for people, Bolech said.
Many people don’t have access to some coolness at some point during a 24-hour period, which affects their mental and physical health.
“All of it contributes to people being in danger physically,” Bolech said.
Halcrow says Brandon needs more housing and the funding to help keep people safer — especially units for single people and transitional housing.
Brandon’s homeless population is getting bigger and the city “can’t build houses fast enough to house the people, especially single adults,” she said.
Salmon works at a downtown hotel and says her income is too high to qualify for certain supports, but not high enough to save up for a first month’s rent and deposit. She’d like to see more supports for people in her financial position, so she didn’t have to live this way.
“It’s frustrating. I wish there was more places to rent that were cheap and affordable.”
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