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Three times as many people sleeping rough in Kelowna as last year

A “conservative” count puts the average number of people currently sleeping rough in Kelowna at 120.

That’s almost triple the average of 46 in August 2021.

“We do have an increased number of persons experiencing homelessness across our community this year,” Kevin Mead, the City of Kelowna’s bylaw services manager told

Part of the increase is due to the closure, in June, of the 40-bed homeless shelter at 550 Doyle Ave. that’s being torn down to make room for a UBCO downtown campus.

But there’s more to it than that.

“It really is a combination between everything from the cost of living/inflation, the opioid crisis – and those things are just fueling and aggravating the problems associated with mental health, trauma and addiction,” Mead said. “It’s at a pace faster than we can really keep up with at this point.”

The situation should ease in September when a new emergency shelter opens in the old B.C. Tree Fruits building beside the Tolko site. That will provide about 60 beds.

READ MORE: $24 million building in Kelowna being converted to homeless shelter

“We hope to see a decrease in numbers almost immediately following its opening,” Mead said.

About one-third of those sleeping rough use the city’s overnight sheltering site next to the Rail Trial by Richter Street in the city’s North End.

The others are scattered around the city.

Bylaw officers and RCMP regularly patrol sheltering “hot spots” in the downtown core, along the North End, Rail Trail, Midtown and Rutland.

Anyone camping in the city's overnight sheltering space has to pack up their gear each morning. Those who go elsewhere also have to pack up when told to by bylaw or police officers.

In the downtown core, people are usually putting up makeshift shelters rather than tents. Bylaw officers can only move them if they’re on city property.

City staff don’t track where the campers come from so can’t say how many are Kelowna residents.

The city works closely with the RCMP, outreach workers and non-profits like the Metro Community to not only keep a tally on the numbers and locations of those sleeping rough but to also direct them to, or provide them with, services.

“We work very hard,” Mead said. “Speaking from a bylaw services perspective, our officers are wildly empathetic and we work with our partners – whether it’s at the day use site, whether it’s the overnight site, or downtown – as much as possible to ensure we take the compassionate approach to enforcement but ensure that community standards are maintained, nonetheless, for all of us.”

Having community groups like Take Back Kelowna starting up street patrols is not helpful, Mead said.

READ MORE: Kelowna residents look to follow Penticton group's lead by fighting petty crime

“There were a number of individuals that organized and attempted to engage some of our homeless community out in one of our parks in Rutland last week,” he said. “That required bylaw and police attendance for a significant period of time, which meant that we weren’t attending to other business.”

Dealing with street entrenched people and those living rough is one the bylaw department’s highest priorities, Mead said.

“We probably devote more effort there than on anything else, in the interest of safety and a sense of safety,” he said. “That includes for those community members as well who are unhoused and unsheltered. They really are the ones who are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.”

READ MORE: Small brush fire sparked by Kelowna homeless camp

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