Homeless man arrested for refusing to leave downtown Kelowna sidewalk - InfoNews

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Homeless man arrested for refusing to leave downtown Kelowna sidewalk

A homeless Kelowna man (not pictured) was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 7 for refusing to leave a public sidewalk in Kelowna.
December 09, 2016 - 2:30 PM

KELOWNA – A man living on the streets in downtown Kelowna says he was arrested this week for refusing to get off the sidewalk.

William Mitchell, 32, says he was hiding from the cold under a blanket on Leon Avenue at around 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7 when a member of Kelowna RCMP approached.

“I was laying down trying to stay warm,” he says. “They rudely pulled the blankets off of me and told me to get inside (the Gospel Mission).”

Mitchell suffers from an anxiety disorder that makes entering a crowded place like the Mission a terrifying ordeal. He says he went inside when the RCMP constable told him to, got a cup of coffee and came back outside hoping the police had left.

“I sat back down and was trying to roll a cigarette and they started arguing with me,” he says. “I said I’m not moving and they arrested me and took me to the detachment.”

According to release papers, Mitchell was released five hours later.

“(The arresting officer) told me I’d be there for a few hours. At 6:30 p.m. I asked why I was still in jail and they said I was arrested for obstruction.”

On the surface, his arrest has little to do with Kelowna's new bylaw that makes sitting or sleeping on a public street any time of day or night punishable by a $50 fine. The city has always prohibited the activity during the day and this was police action, not bylaw. But to Mitchell it's all the same: He is treated as a criminal because he has nowhere to go. 

Mitchell says the Kelowna bylaw is not about the money but the power it gives RCMP and bylaw officers.

“The police have been more aggressive (since the bylaw came into effect),” he says. “It seems like its only been the past couple days that they’ve been more on it.”

He says City of Kelowna bylaw officers have visited a handful of times but haven’t said more than a few words to the people huddled together under blankets for warmth.

Some police officers however, are taking it very seriously.

“It really depends who you get and if they’re having a bad day or not,” Mitchell says. “The officer who released me didn’t understand why I had been arrested and helped get me released.”

The release document shows Mitchell was arrested for obstruction of justice, resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance, a small amount of marijuana, he says.

Mitchell moved to Kelowna 12 years ago and has been homeless for more than a year now. He says he worked in manufacturing but when work became scarce he had nowhere else to go. He has applied for low income housing but says there are hundreds of applicants for every available apartment.

Work too is scarce as he now has no address to put down on applications. Since his arrest he has also been put on a Red Zone restriction and was unaware that the restriction doesn't apply to social services located within the zone. It's a system he says makes it almost impossible to get up once you've been knocked down.

“Most people won’t rent to someone on welfare and if your contact info is the Gospel Mission they’re reluctant to hire you,” he says. "I'm just trying to survive now."

Mitchell and others he’s spoken to say they aren’t concerned about the $50 fine as there is little the city can do to collect from a homeless person, but worries what it says about the city as a whole. He’s also worried about how he’s going to get through the winter as his medical condition keeps him from asking for the help he needs. 

“Certain days are better than others and I can go in (the Gospel Mission) for meals but if it’s too crowded or there’s tension… there’s just too many voices.”

- This story was changed at 2 p.m. Dec. 10 to correct information about red zone restrictions.

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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