Helping homeless people in Kelowna is about overcoming the "fear factor" - InfoNews

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Helping homeless people in Kelowna is about overcoming the "fear factor"

Protesters lined the street outside a public meeting at the Ramada Hotel in Kelowna late last year objecting to the proposed supportive housing complex on Agassiz Road. Kelowna City Council approved the B.C. Housing project following a public hearing that ran into the early morning hours Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.
Image Credit: FILE PHOTO
January 18, 2019 - 2:00 PM

KELOWNA - To hear some people speak, it was all Kelowna City Council’s fault that the Agassiz supportive housing was even proposed.

In fact, it was B.C. Housing that bought the land on Agassiz Road (just behind Orchard Plaza mall) and applied to rezone it in order to build a 52-unit complex to help the homeless get off the streets.

Neighbour’s strongly opposed the project, largely on the grounds that it was a “wet” facility – meaning residents could consume drugs and alcohol on site.

“This is going to have a big impact on our lives, but not on yours,” Geraldine Bush told council early in the public hearing.

“You should require all residents who have a spare bedroom and who support this morally destructive project to take a homeless person into their home,” Harvey Yule suggested.

There was much talk of fear, drug use, needles left on the street for children to step on, increased crime, threats to elderly women and more.

But there were also many touching stories, not only from the more than 60 people who spoke, but by the councillors themselves.

Of particular note were comments made by Coun. Charlie Hodge after the public hearing closed. He just returned to council chambers this week after spending time in intensive care at Kelowna General Hospital.

Kelowna Coun. Charlie Hodge.
Kelowna Coun. Charlie Hodge.

“Ten days ago, as you know, I was in KGH,” he said. “I had CO2 poisoning. What it did is, it made me crazy. I was out of control. I was mean. I was nasty. You had to hold me down. It was not Charlie Hodge. It was some other beast. It was because of the CO2 poisoning. For all intents and purposes, I could have been some out of control person on drugs.

“What I’m trying to say is, it’s so easy for us to look to someone and make a judgement of what’s going on inside their head.”

He went on to say he’s lived in his neighbourhood (near the Capri Centre mall) for nine years where there are other supportive housing projects and a homeless shelter.

“I’ve never had one incident at all with those people,” he said. “As a matter of fact, those people have become my friends. I feel safer in my neighbourhood because they are watching out for me.”

Other councillors – who all voted in favour of the rezoning – had poignant things to say.

Coun. Luke Stack started the councillor’s discussion by saying he’s spent the last 15 to 20 years of his life trying “to integrate affordable housing into all areas of our city.”

He’s done that not only as a city councillor but also by working for the Society of Hope in providing affordable housing.

“I do regret that we have so much animosity concerning this proposal,” he said. “But I will support this because it’s the right thing to do. It’s consistent with what I’ve always done.”

Coun. Brad Sieben pointed out that it was a rezoning hearing that dealt with the use of the land.

“We do lots of rezoning,” he said. “This is fairly straightforward as a rezoning.”

He said that “both sides need to move to the middle a little more.”

He pointed out that both B.C. Housing, which will build the project, and the John Howard Society, which will operate it, need to do a better job of explaining these projects to neighbours.

Coun. Mohini Singh agreed that this was really about rezoning but noted it was also about listening to the neighbours.

“This is the group that paid into our social system,” she said. “This is the group that has built Canada to where it’s at today and this is the group that is looking for a peaceful retirement.

“We also have to consider those who face challenges and who have, somehow, fallen off and we have to help them get back on their feet. It is our moral, ethical responsibility to take care of our most vulnerable. This is a crisis. If we don’t do anything about it today, it will only get worse.”

For Coun. Loyal Wooldridge, it was a learning process

“When I started this journey, I didn’t know much about homelessness and I didn’t have much empathy for them,” he said. “I thought we had enough services in Canada to support them.”

Then he spent some time touring shelters and talking to front line workers and the homeless. That “turned my no into know.”

Coun. Ryan Donn said that the best news he heard throughout the hearing was from an Interior Health representative who spoke about how treatment services for addicts have greatly increased.

The last councillor to speak was Coun. Gail Given, who addressed the fear factor.

“I did hear people speak and I did hear genuine fear,” Given said. “But the comment that the greatest predator in the room was fear, not the residents, was the one that rang most true with me.

“When I first threw my hat in the ring of council many years ago, I talked about peeling back the levels of fear and getting to the core and the reality of a situation. I don’t want to make decisions based on what might be or what fear says could possibly happen but, rather, on the realities of the situation.”

The realities of the situation, councillors decided, was that the city needs to deal with the homelessness crisis and that providing housing is a vital first step

Coun. Maxine DeHart did not attend the public hearing.


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