Kamloops day space for homeless not open due to threats to landlord | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops day space for homeless not open due to threats to landlord

The site of the announced Envision day space at 346 Campbell Avenue.
September 21, 2021 - 11:00 AM

A day space in Kamloops for homeless people dubbed Envision is still not open yet because the property owner backed out since receiving threats.

Despite announcements in July, and promises that it would be open in early August, the planned day space at 346 Campbell Ave. has not opened after the owner of the Northbridge Hotel decided not to follow through and is not re-engaging with City staff to follow up with the lease.

While some sources say there are legal complications with the lease because the property is up for sale, Kamloops city councillor Bill Sarai said the property owner was threatened after the City announced the day spaces on July 21.

"Either neighbourhood residents, or maybe people that supported Glenn Hilke (coordinator of The Loop) have phoned him and threatened him if he opened up that back building," Sarai said. "He's ignored City staff now and not ready to negotiate. (The threats) must have been serious enough that he's backing out."

Coun. Sarai said he feels the City was "blindsided" when Leahy backed out, but he thinks the July 21 announcement may have been premature and "(City) staff has to wear that."

The Loop at 405A Tranquille Road had offered similar services to what Envision proposed to do, but with less support from the City and other social agencies. While operating the COVID Meal Train out of the building, it also offered a day space for people who are homeless or at-risk. People could use the bathroom, and volunteers would carry out other services like shuttling people to shelters or helping them obtain identification and other government forms. It was closed the day after the Envision day spaces were announced.

"In hindsight, maybe we should have done nothing to The Loop — to Hilke — before we had processes in place. He was providing a service... on a shoestring budget," Sarai said, listing some of the basic services The Loop provided like offering food or the use of their washroom.

"He offered that when a multimillion-dollar agency is down the street and doesn't offer the same services," he said, referring to ASK Wellness and their facilities on Tranquille Road.

The COVID Meal Train still operates at the kitchen at 405A Tranquille Road, but the City sent Community Service Officers to put a stop to their ability to run as a day space on July 22. They dispersed The Loop's clients from the building and removed belongings, taking anything unclaimed to the Community Services Division across the river Mission Flats Road.

One day earlier, the City announced partnerships between local non-profits to open two day spaces for homeless people in Kamloops, which excluded The Loop. Envision was to be located less than one block from The Loop and The Gathering Place, which is now open at 48 West Victoria Street. At 346 Campbell Avenue, Envision would be located in a lot behind the Northbridge Hotel on Tranquille Road. The mostly empty lot hosts a small building which was once a liquor store. 

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Robert Leahy, the owner of Northbridge Hotel, would not comment to iNFOnews.ca, but The Loop coordinator Glenn Hilke corroborated Sarai's claims that Leahy was threatened after the City announced the plan to lease the property.

"Robert has told me that since the announcement, he has received death threats from people from the neighbourhood," Hilke said. "(City staff) had a verbal agreement, putting it back on the landlord. (City staff) shipped the responsibility away from them. They are putting the blame on the landlord but they are putting the response on (Canadian Mental Health Association)."

On the south shore, the Gathering Place is open, but not highly used, Hilke said.

"No one is gathering at the Gathering Place. They are not coming in and there is no food except from us. (The COVID Meal Train) are being asked to provide food," Hilke said.

iNFOnews.ca reached out to Carmin Mazzotta, social, housing and community development for the City of Kamloops for comment on the threats to Leahy, but he did not respond in time for publication.

When previously asked for updates on Envision, Mazzotta responded on Sept. 13 in an email to iNFOnews.ca saying, "No, I have no news to report on Envision at this time."

Leahy, however, was warned ahead of time to expect angry reactions and threats when engaging in this type of social service work, according to acting executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association, Kamloops branch, Alfred Achoba.

"He said to us he's stressed. He's been called names. We've engaged Robert, and he was fully aware that would happen," Achoba said.

Despite that, Achoba maintains that Leahy has backed out because the Northbridge Hotel property is up for sale and they plan to engage in lease discussions with new owners.

He added that a lease agreement for the prematurely announced day space was not associated with B.C. Housing, rather it was an agreement with the City, the four social service agencies that were to offer their services and the property owner.

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The Northbridge Hotel is currently up for sale for $7.5 million, according to Royal LePage.

In July, Achoba told iNFOnews.ca that he did not believe The Loop had failed. Rather, it lacked resources to deliver its services to vulnerable populations.

Now, he's clarified that statement saying it was management issues at The Loop that revealed its demise.

"The Loop wasn't shut down because of Envision. It was shut down because of poor management," Achoba said. "I really hope people understand this difference. Envision had nothing to do with the shut down of The Loop."

Mayor Ken Christian, along with other city councillors, have said questions about Envision should be directed at Mazzotta, but Christian did say that he has heard many positive messages from residents since The Loop's closure as a gathering space.

"I've heard from multiple sources that they are happy that The Loop is closed. That has been a very consistent message," Christian said.

Despite the premature announcement from the City of Kamloops that both day spaces would be opening to help direct people into shelters, Achoba said CMHA is offering a shuttle service to do outreach work and move people into shelters.

Effectively, this is has moved Envision's goals to a mobile service while still working toward the same goal of connecting people to services and shelter space.

Outreach is a new direction for Achoba's organization, but it is a collaboration with other organizations like ASK Wellness and Interior Community Services, which allows them to better triage people into services and shelters they may need.

ASK Wellness has sent one outreach worker to collaborate in this effort, with the end goal of moving people into shelters. 

"It is through collaboration and the community agencies working together that we are able to best support the most marginalized members of our community," ASK Wellness spokesperson Andrina Tenisci said in an email to iNFOnews.ca.

Director of youth and clinical services at Interior Community Services, Nicole Arnould, said the shuttle service provides another tool for outreach workers to better access vulnerable populations in Kamloops. While having a day space might be beneficial, she said outreach work and services are more important when services are limited.

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"We are always running short on services. This is an incredibly complex population we are working on," Arnould told iNFOnews.ca. "Can we do better? We can always do better, but not at the risk of having unsafe practices."

Achoba also said his organization's immediate concern now is opening more shelter space in Kamloops, as they begin to fill more beds.

The 2021 Point in Time homelessness count surveyed 222 people living without permanent shelter in Kamloops. With the current available bed space in the city today, the City is 90 spaces short of having a bed for everyone as winter approaches.

"I can't speak on behalf of the City, but I can say we, and other partners, have been open from day one. We've offered an alternative and we're seeing the results from those alternatives," Achoba said.

Although winter is approaching, the Memorial Arena is continuing its use as a shelter in Kamloops rather than a skating rink. The City voted to continue the lease agreement with B.C. Housing on July 20, with the expectation that it would return to recreational use once new shelter space is opened.

There is no word yet on new potential locations for temporary shelters.

READ MORE: Promised day spaces on Kamloops's North Shore still aren't fully open

— With reporting from Shannon Ainslie.


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