JONESIE: The Ballad of Billie-Jo Bennett and other Kelowna stories | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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JONESIE: The Ballad of Billie-Jo Bennett and other Kelowna stories

This "temporary" overnight tenting area is steadily growing beyond its original enclosure.



Now and again there comes a story that perfectly encapsulates a time and place. Two this week depict Kelowna in a nutshell.

First, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre shared on Twitter a video of Kelowna’s mile-long homeless camp along the rail trail. He compared it to a third world country.

I don’t know what third world countries he’s been to, but they don’t look like that.

That is the most Kelowna-looking homeless camp I’ve ever seen — look at that video again.

It’s clean, organized, there’s no garbage. Some of those tents are out of my price range and the long string of tarps all look brand new. There are garbage and recycling bins and port-a-potties, one being cleaned on camera.

Add a DJ booth and it’s basically Shambhala but with half the amount of drugs.

Kelowna likes to polish its own apples, thinking it makes the spots go away.

Marshall Jones, managing editor
Marshall Jones, managing editor

The city is also a key character in the Ballad of Billie-Jo Bennett

No, not of those Bennetts, not the wealthy family that produced two premiers and still owns most of the prime real estate around the city. These Bennetts had no future in the Okanagan’s biggest city.

Billie-Jo and her husband James were together since high school.

She wore the pants in the house. She took care of the money, paid the bills, made the decisions. James suffered from a disability, curvature of the spine. Reports conflict, but in October 2021 he was very slight, well under 100 pounds. She’d had two heart attacks, diabetes and early dementia.

That same month, the fortunes of property owners in Kelowna grew 30 per cent in one year, adding at least $200,000 in passive wealth generation. The pandemic was a sweepstakes and the average sale price was just shy of $1 million, which it would reach for the first time two months later.

Billie-Jo and James didn’t own property, they were just trying to survive — and failing. They were drinkers and smokers and made their money on the scraps and refuse of Kelowna wealth — they were cleaners.

But Billie-Jo knew something James didn’t. They were broke, barely paying rent, about to lose their car and their phone and she correctly deduced what came next. This was the road to homelessness. At age 56, she was facing life on the streets for the first time, with a dependent husband who couldn’t defend himself. They would both be prey out there.

She couldn’t even bring herself to tell him. She decided she’d rather die. 

And she failed at that too.

She awoke from a belly full of pills on Oct. 17, 2021 and decided the better thing to do, the more merciful thing, I guess — was kill her husband.

She poked a kitchen knife through the ribs of the man she’d been with since 1984, then went outside for a smoke, called police and told them what she did.

Now she has lost truly everything. She has no companion, no friends, no family, no home, no freedom.

With nothing left to lose, she makes her gains. She’s got three square meals and a roof over her head for at least the next five or six years of her 11-year prison sentence. If she lives that long.

You did a terrible thing, Billie-Jo. But I think I understand.

Extreme pressure provoked extreme action, pure desperation from lives lived not far below the shiny facade of Kelowna’s great wealth.

— Marshall Jones is the Managing Editor of

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