Kelowna mayor responds to backlash over tent city relocation | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna mayor responds to backlash over tent city relocation

A video posted to Facebook shows a bird's eye view of the homeless tent city in on Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Carey Missler
November 26, 2019 - 4:50 PM

Kelowna mayor Colin Basran is very aware of the community outrage over the relocation of Leon Avenue’s tent city.

But, he said, the city had to do something and the urgency was increasing as the street’s population expanded.  

“Since the first tents started popping up, we’ve been trying to create a plan for how we were going to deal with it,” Basran said. “We would have preferred not to have to do this and people would either have temporarily indoor or a long-term place to live. We are constantly working on this, but unfortunately, this is the best of a really bad situation.”

A recent B.C. Supreme Court decision puts the legal obligation to provide public living space when there aren’t enough shelter beds, on the city.

“They have to have a place to stay somewhere,” he said. “These opportunities need to exist, and no matter where we designated public space it would upset somebody.”

As is, Leon Avenue had become unsafe. The population expanded dramatically in recent weeks.

Among other things, tents had to be set up a metre apart so emergency personnel can safely access the area. The street was too densely populated for that to happen.

Then, last night, there was a fire that ramped up fears that something worse could happen.

“This is not a perfect plan by any means, so that’s why we continue to work with B.C. Housing to find a temporary winter shelter and longer-term housing,” he said.  “We couldn’t let the situation on Leon Avenue continue on, as is.”

Also, he said, the tents will only be set up from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m., which means it won’t be a tent city. It’s more of a temporary shelter zone.

As for why these sites were chosen, and when, however, is a little less clear.

Basran said there were a number of locations looked at and the north end parks were chosen within the last few days.

No place, however, would have made everyone happy.

“It’s awful — it weighs heavily on council, staff and everyone involved,” he said. “It’s not easy. We’re trying to do the best we can under the legal obligations.”

While the city’s obligations kick in once the housing supply falls short, housing is actually a provincial issue.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing “takes leadership in supporting local governments, not-for-profit organizations and residents to build vibrant and healthy communities that are well-governed, liveable, safe, economically resilient, and socially and environmentally responsible,” according to the province’s website.

The City of Kelowna does not provide housing, addiction or mental health services.

That said, it’s continually falling on them to do so.

At both parks — the one at the base of Knox Mountain Park near Poplar Point Road and the one on Recreation Avenue — people are allowed to set up tents after 1 p.m. today but going forward they won't be able to set up tents at the two locations until 7 p.m.

“Overnight sheltering in public spaces is not the long-term solution,” community safety director Darren Caul said in a media release.

“Through the Journey Home Strategy, the City will continue to advocate for the provincial government and community groups to provide additional supportive and scattered housing to eliminate the need for people to shelter outdoors.”

Washrooms, garbage disposal, sharps disposal, bottled water and daytime storage will be provided at the two locations.

This was of no consolation to area residents who, among other things, raised concerns over the proximity of the park to a school bus stop.

That, however, is being addressed.

Ryan Stierman, secretary treasurer of the Central Okanagan School district said he's been in contact with the city and indicated they will have security personnel on the site in the immediate area, as well as RCMP and bylaw patrol and daily site cleanup.

"We are currently looking into where these stops are compared to where the location (of the camp is) and investigating where those stops can be moved," Stierman said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels 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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