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Former Kelowna top cop's public safety report zeros in on housing, RCMP staffing

Former Kelowna RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon, hired by the city to study public safety, spoke to city council, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.
November 26, 2018 - 4:18 PM

KELOWNA - Bill McKinnon’s message of getting help for the homeless didn’t resonate with at least one anti-supportive housing protester outside Kelowna city council chambers today.

McKinnon presented his report to council today, Nov. 26, that contained 26 recommendations on dealing with homelessness and crime problems downtown. It included strong support for people needing treatment and the need to educate the public in order to de-stigmatize those in need.

“You can provide treatment but until we have a roof over their heads, until we have that, we’re limited,” McKinnon told council. He said the city needed to take a proactive role in identifying where emergency shelters and supportive housing (where people transition from the street to being housed) should be located.

He also spoke about what a learning process it was for him to study the issue and how council, senior staff and the public needs to be educated on this whole complex issue.

After the presentation he spoke to media outside council chambers where a protester inturrupted and complained about supportive housing being moved into his neighbourhood.

At the same time, inside council chambers, a controversial rezoning application for a 52-unit supportive housing on Agassiz Road was given approval to move to public hearing. Some council members suggested the public hearing be held in larger venue given the amount of opposition expected.

Earlier, McKinnon had given council figures on the number of people in need – one to three per cent with opioid addictions, another four to five per cent with addictions to other drugs or alcohol and another five to seven per cent with mental health and other issues.

“We can’t create 20,000 beds,” he noted.

Council will look at where a recommended permanent safe injection site, emergency shelters and supportive housing should be located. Some shelters and supportive housing allow for on-site drug use.

He urged council to move quickly to lobby for a number of things, such as more treatment facilities and for a community court.

One of the biggest and most costly issues he pointed to is the lack of full RCMP staffing. Out of 188 officers, the local detachment was short 30 members due to an inability to bring in new hires and to cover for officers on leave.

As superintendent of the RCMP for 13 years, there wasn’t one year when he didn’t turn back more than $1 million to city hall because it was not spent on staff. McKinnon called for a different way of budgeting for RCMP.

“You need to risk manage,” he told council. “You need to go through the history. How much money came back to the city for the last 10 years?"

Deputy city manager Joe Creron told council some of McKinnon’s recommendations have been included for review in the upcoming budget and the city is looking at hiring more police officers.

McKinnon’s report was referred to staff for review and a report back in the new year.

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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