A new ‘tent city’ has surfaced in downtown Merritt, just three months after City Council approved the use of tents overnight in N’Kwala Park by those facing homelessness. Located in an unfinished building in the 2100 block of Quilchena Avenue, multiple tents and other makeshift structures have been erected in the foundation of the long abandoned project.

Tent cities have become a common sight throughout both metropolitan and rural municipalities in B.C., shedding light on the ongoing underlying issues of housing insecurity and addictions. Recently, police moved to clear out a large homeless encampment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, after an order by the City’s Fire Chief cited potentially “catastrophic” fire risk. The City of Merritt says it may take action if staff receive complaints or witness infractions, and stressed that N’Kwala Park is the only approved camping location in the city.

“The only place in Merritt where homeless people are allowed to camp is N’Kwala Park, between 7pm and 8am,” said the City in a statement to the Herald.

“Camping in other locations in the City is not allowed. The City may take action when staff see, or receive complaints about, infractions such as unsightly property issues, trespass, etc. If there are any violations of law, the RCMP are responsible for enforcement.”

The Herald has reached out to the Merritt RCMP for comment on the new tent city, including any possible enforcement against or support for those inhabiting the building.

At the May 24 regular meeting of Council, councillors voted 4-1 to allow the use of tents for overnight camping in N’Kwala Park, a small park north of Lions Memorial Park. The park is also adjacent to the Merritt Community Shelter, which offers daily meals, showers, storage lockers, and beds. The shelter is operated by the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society (NVSSS), with funding from BC Housing and Interior Health.

The latest numbers offered by the Province’s homeless count initiative are from 2020, and detected that 43 people were unhoused. In 2018, only 11 residents were identified as unhoused. The Province plans to complete its Report on Homeless Counts annually, and says that recent investments through Budget 2022 looks to support those facing homelessness.

“We’re more than doubling the number of community integration specialists to better help people access the services they need,” said Nicholas Simons, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

“As well, we’re introducing a change to our shelter allowance to provide a new minimum base rate and will be funding tenant startup kits to assist people moving from homelessness into more stable housing.”

For more information on NVSSS, and other supports offered for those facing housing insecurity, visit www.nvshelterandsupport.com.