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Business owners say Leon Avenue is getting worse

Business owners on Leon Avenue say the problem of homelessness is getting worse in their area, despite recent attempts by the city to get the problem under control.

KELOWNA – The Thain family from Victoria chose Leon Avenue at random.

After spending the morning in scenic City Park they ventured into what appears to be just another part of downtown Kelowna, only to be surprised at the dramatic and sudden change in landscape: groups of homeless people with their belongings, filth and trash, open drug use. If there were stores, they might have done some shopping, but instead they are confronted with a reminder that Kelowna is not all sunshine and fine wine.

“It’s a bit on the rough side,” Don Thain says politely. “We saw quite a few people that were pushing buggy carts with cans and collecting stuff and just hanging outside not really doing much of anything. It’s not very scenic.”

Thain says this is his first time on Leon Avenue so can’t comment on the City’s recent attempts to get control of the problem.  

The City has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in just the last year. They’ve hired new Bylaw officers and made sitting or lying down on public sidewalks illegal during the day. Despite this, some local businesses say the problem is getting worse.

Chad Abougoush owns Boyd Autobody on Leon Avenue. He says he’s noticed far more homeless people in the area in the last year, but any damage to his business hasn’t been caused by them. He stops short of blaming the new bylaw for the worsening problem, but doubts fining people who have no money will solve anything.

“The vandalism that I’ve had downtown is from the bar community, not from the homeless population,” he says. “These people aren’t the problem. They don’t want to be here. They’re homeless.”

Quinn Best owns Habitat nightclub in the middle of Leon Avenue. He says vagrancy has steadily increased over the 13 years he’s been in business, but the last few years have been particularly worrisome. And he's had to make some changes.

“It’s gotten progressively worse every year for the last three years,” he says. “I see bylaw and police down here every day but for every one they take down, there’s ten more.”

Best is quick to sympathize with the homeless population, and is even resigned to his block having more exposure to the problem than elsewhere downtown. What he doesn’t accept is flagrant and accelerating drug dealing - often in view of police.

“The biggest issue I have is the drug trafficking,” he says. “We have a great relationship with the Gospel Mission. I highly respect what they do. It’s not an issue with the people on the street. It’s the City.

“We don’t’ have any dialogue with the City or RCMP.”

Best recently spent $100,000 moving Habitat's entrance to the back of the building.

“We put our foot down, pulled out a development permit and renovated to eliminate alcoves where they were defecating in, doing drugs in,” he says.” We’ve accepted the hard truth that this will never change. We’ve had to turn our back on Leon Avenue.”

Quinn says he’s considered selling and moving the club, but would rather stay and help fix the problem. 

“We knew there would be a homeless shelter across the street,” he says. “What we didn’t know is that we would be all alone in this.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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