Downtown Kelowna nightclubs and temporary homeless camp not a good mix | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Downtown Kelowna nightclubs and temporary homeless camp not a good mix

The owner of the new Gotham Nightclub in Kelowna says he did not ask the police to remove homeless people's tents on Leon Avenue for opening night last week.
Image Credit: INSTAGRAM / Gotham Nighclub
October 30, 2019 - 3:00 PM

The owner of Kelowna’s newest nightclub is “shocked” by the reaction triggered by a police raid on homeless campers last weekend.

After Level Nightclub closed on Leon Avenue across from Kelowna's Gospel Mission about eight months ago it was bought by Sapphire Nightclub owner Eddy Racano.

“I just wanted to help out the street,” Racano told “I thought if I owned both places, I could have shows at one and a nightclub at the other. I was trying to do a positive thing. I can’t believe it’s turned out like this for me now. I’m kind of shocked. I was trying to bring business to the street. Kelowna needs a nightlife.”

Racano spent the last few months renovating and rebranding the club as Gotham. He reopened Friday, Oct. 25, with a “Fruitcake Halloween” event that started at 9 p.m., an hour after Kelowna RCMP ordered 60 to 100 homeless people to pack up the tents they had been living in for weeks on the sidewalks near the clubs.

He said some are painting him as the bad guy for opening a second club and chasing the homeless from what shelter they do have.

Racano pointed to the fact that there have been nightclubs there for decades. When he started renovations, people were not being allowed to camp overnight on the street. That has been allowed in recent weeks by city bylaw officers as the weather has grown colder.

But, by Friday night, tents were not only pitched on the sidewalks, but on the streets themselves.

“The sleeping in the streets is what caused the evacuation of the tents for the evening,” RCMP Cpl. Meghan Foster wrote in an email. “This response was simply in regards to the safety of those on the street and not due to the opening of the new Gotham establishment. The tents are not expected to be moved in future unless they are on the street again.”

As far as Foster knows that was the first time tents were actually pitched on the street.

Racano said he did not ask the police to take any action.

“I work very heavily with (the RCMP) gang task force, the liquor control and cannabis branch, the RCMP and city bylaws and try to have a safe place for my patrons,” he said.

“Yes, it was talked about with the RCMP,” he added. “Hey guys, I’m going to have 2,000 people possibly on the street. We need to make sure there are no fights. I don’t want the homeless to get picked on. I don’t want the patrons to get beat up. I don’t want anything like that.”

While most of the homeless people he deals with are cooperative, he does point out that some can be aggressive either by begging or showing hostility. He also knows some of his young patrons fuelled by alcohol, can be hot headed.

He’s taken actions like getting permission to have Gotham stay open until 3:30 a.m. to avoid the worst of the “bar flush” problems that have happened in the past when hundreds of partiers were forced out of clubs at 2 a.m.

Police, bylaws and others tell him there is a record number of homeless now camped out on Leon Avenue, rather than being forced to move at night. That has impacted his businesses.

“All of a sudden you have tents and everything on the sidewalk,” Racano said. “Where are (customers) supposed to park? Where are they supposed to walk? Where are they supposed to catch a taxi cab? Where is there room to do that when it’s full of tents?”

He noted that young women are sometimes afraid to go out alone to catch a cab so he does his best to find escorts because he doesn’t have enough staff to escort all of them. He has homeless people begging from those lined up to get inside.

He had considered trying to relocate Sapphire but said there’s nowhere else downtown that’s suitable to the city.

He had hoped to bring some business life back to that area of downtown but is frustrated.

“If it wasn’t for the Downtown Kelowna Association, I don’t know what I would do,” Racano said. “They have been the biggest help to us cleaning up, helping clean up the graffiti, helping sweep up the streets. The get told off the most by the homeless.”

He’s seen bylaw officers threatened and chased on the street. Others are getting sick from cleaning up excrement, he said.

“They’re invisible angels that nobody sees,” he said.

A winter mat program hopes to provide temporary emergency shelter for the homeless through to March 30. The first 40-mat facility will be announced within the next few days.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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