Kelowna responds to Leon Avenue tent city concerns | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna responds to Leon Avenue tent city concerns

Campers in a homeless tent city on Leon Avenue in Kelowna are pictured in this Oct. 31, 2019 file photo.
November 22, 2019 - 10:30 AM

Kelowna city staff are addressing concerns around the tent city on Leon Avenue in the city's downtown.

“We know we need more shelter space in the city, and we must respect the legal rights of people to shelter outdoors when there is no room in the existing shelters,” said Darren Caul, community safety director, in a press release. 

Contingency planning by the province, Journey Home Society and the city for temporary winter shelter space continues, however locating space has proven challenging.

“Tents are not a solution to homelessness, housing with supports is the solution,” Sue Wheeler, social development manager, said in a press release.

“While we have more than 100 units of housing scheduled to open in the spring, we are continuing to work with the province, our community partners and those with lived experience to try and secure supports and an adequate number of overnight shelter beds to accommodate people currently sleeping outside," Wheeler said.

READ MORE: You have to make Leon safer says mental health worker

The law in B.C. specifies that where there is insufficient housing and shelter space for people experiencing homelessness, a municipality cannot prohibit all parks and public spaces from being used for temporary overnight shelter.

In these cases, a municipality must identify public space where it will not apply a prohibition against overnight outdoor sheltering on public lands, which to date has been Leon Avenue in Kelowna.

“Our primary concern with the current use of tents for overnight sheltering is safety-related,” Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting said. “Specifically, the close grouping of the tents with highly combustible materials around, and the observed use of unsafe heaters create a fire or carbon monoxide risk to the residents.”

The city is aware of the experiences of other communities and the serious safety hazards associated with the unchecked use of tents and other shelters for continuous occupation. Such experiences have included fires, propane explosions and injuries.

“Our main focus is to continue to work with our partners to find and create more shelter and supportive living spaces with BC Housing and the Journey Home Society,” said Caul. “In the meantime, we’re all trying to keep people safe and maintain order in what is not a good situation for anyone involved, including businesses.”

RCMP foot patrols were introduced to the downtown earlier this month, in addition to regular patrols by the RCMP Downtown Enforcement Unit, Bylaw Services, Downtown Kelowna Association Patrol teams and private security.

Since 2017, 215 people who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Kelowna have been housed and new apartments planned for 2020-21 will see another 150 people in supported housing, through Provincial initiatives implemented by BC Housing.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2019

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