Doing business on Leon Ave means having a plan for the neighbours - InfoNews

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Doing business on Leon Ave means having a plan for the neighbours

Some business owners on Leon Avenue have had to learn to adapt to the surging homeless population and rising number of drug addicts seeking help in the area.
July 05, 2017 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA – Two Leon Avenue business owners have been forced to take dramatic yet different approaches to survive in the heart of Kelowna’s homeless population.

Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna is home to the Gospel Mission, the largest men's shelter in the city. Among the largely harmless homeless men and women congregating there are what some people downtown say is a growing drug problem; some workers say they don't feel safe and others have taken to recording and sharing on social media open drug use and dealing, finding needles and being harassed.

Quinn Best, owner of Habitat Nightclub describes Leon Avenue as a “zombie land” with open drug dealing in full view of police and the petty crime that accompanies it. He remembers what it was like to have hope for his block and his strategy supported that view.

"It's gotten much worse in the last couple years," he says. "Summer should be our busiest time but it's our slowest."

Over the past 13 years Best has organized pancake breakfasts, hosted open mic nights focused on generating ideas to help the homeless of Kelowna and a few years ago he started the Leon Avenue Night Market. 

“We tried to take a leadership role so we could reduce the amount of vandalism and violence that would ultimately be projected onto our customers,” he says. “We tried to build a relationship on the street, which I think we successfully did for many years, but it's almost impossible to run a business on Leon Avenue. If I was one block over this wouldn't be an issue.”

Best says he was forced to literally turn his back on Leon Avenue by moving his main entrance to the back alley.

“We kind of put our foot down about three years ago with what was happening in front of our building,” he says. “We renovated the front of our building to eliminate some of the alcoves that folks were sitting in, defecating in and doing drugs in. It was causing issues for our patrons.”

Chad Abougoush has had a slightly different experience. He says the homeless have never vandalized his shop, Boyd's Tire and Auto Service and actually come in handy from time to time. He has instructed his staff to give out water and sometimes coffee and odd jobs when they come up.

“Whether it’s cleaning the windows, sweeping the front... we save all our bottles and cans and give it to guys on the street,” he says. “They don’t want to be here, they’re homeless.”

While some Leon Avenue businesses declined to talk about their experiences, the impacts are obvious. Nearby hotels enjoy generally favourable ratings online but some TripAdvisor reviewers, most from out of town, aren’t shy about mentioning Leon Avenue and the Gospel Mission.

"Let’s not forget the homeless/drug addicts who all hang out on the next street over, who wander around the place and into the parking area at night," one reviewer writes about a nearby hotel. 

"The back side overlooks an alley and there seems to be a homeless problem around the block," writes another. "There’s a shelter close by. I wouldn’t suggest venturing out late at night."

Both Abougoush and Best wonder how bad the problem has to get before the City does more than issue fines and hire additional bylaw officers

“If you’re not from Kelowna you turn the corner onto Leon Avenue, it’s a really long block. It’s one of the longest blocks in the downtown core, and you’re stuck having to get through this zombie land of drug dealers, shopping carts, people on the sidewalks. Some are in need and getting services from the (Gospel) Mission, but it’s hard to separate the wolves from the sheep.”

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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