Kelowna supportive housing building, Heath House, makes moves to improve neighbourhood safety - InfoNews

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Kelowna supportive housing building, Heath House, makes moves to improve neighbourhood safety

The owners of the Day's Inn on Highway 97 had to build the concrete wall next to the sidewalk in order to keep Heath House residents from pushing shopping carts over their lawn.
July 08, 2019 - 9:00 AM

KELOWNA - Heath House has been deemed a problem by nearby business owners who are dealing with the fallout of 42 formerly homeless people being moved into their neighbourhood.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, which operates the converted motel on Highway 97 near Leathhead Road, is aware of the issues that that their operation has caused, and they're hoping recent actions will improve neighbourly relations. 

Top of the list is the recent eviction of tenants who couldn't follow the rules set out in the rental agreement. There is also investment in increased neighbourhood security.

If that creates the changes needed remains to be seen, but it will take some time to convince the neighbours, many of whom didn't want to be quoted by iNFOnews.ca.

“We had to hire security,” Day’s Inn sales manager Jazz Sekhon said. “We couldn’t deal with all the break-ins, people walking around the property, knocking on doors in the middle of the night.”

Cars left in their winter park-and-fly program were broken into. A worker who used to walk to the bus stop past Heath House when her shift ended now takes a taxi home. A wall was built along the front of the property to prevent residents from pushing shopping carts and riding bikes across the lawn. Landscaping has been taken out to keep people from sleeping under it.

Sekhon said the company will be spending $50,000 a year for night-time security.

Heath House is contributing to the cost of that security bill and B.C. Housing is going to fund nighttime security patrols of the surrounding neighbourhoods because of concerns from other neighbours, Jessica Samuels, communications and events manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association told iNFOnews.ca.

“We’re committed to making sure everyone feels safe,” she said.

The association has been operating supportive housing in Kelowna for 20 years and knows there is a “settling-in” period.

Owners of the Day's Inn are also building the Microtel hotel so they have properties flanking both sides of Heath House.
Owners of the Day's Inn are also building the Microtel hotel so they have properties flanking both sides of Heath House.

Contrary to what some critics of supportive housing say – especially those running a petition campaign against a new supportive housing project on McCurdy Road who refer to it as a “facility for substance-addicted homeless persons” is that not all residents have substance abuse problems, although they are allowed to consume drugs and/or alcohol in their own homes.

“It does not mean that there is a free for all,” Samuels said. “We want individual lives to stabilize and we know the first step in that is to receive housing and have stable housing, sometimes for the first time in many years."

Of the 42 Heath House residents, 15 have addiction issues, she said. Of those, four have alcohol addictions, eight have entered the Opioid Agonist Treatment program to deal with their addictions and three have drug issues that they are not yet dealing with.

Others may use drugs or consume alcohol but are not considered to be addicted.

Eight residents have been evicted, including four about two weeks ago, for not living up to their tenancy contracts.

“We have seen a calming down in the last couple of weeks,” Samuels said.

Also, while some of the problems for the Day’s Inn and other businesses have been caused by residents of Heath House, there is also a history of transients in the nearby area of Leathhead, Highway 97 and the Rail Trail.

For example, it was not unusual for the city to remove four to five campsites a day along the Rail Trail corridor last summer, Andrew Hunsberger, the City of Kelowna’s urban forestry supervisor told iNFOnews.ca in April.

Those camps were there even before Hearthstone opened a couple of blocks to the west of Heath House in October.

That facility is operated by the John Howard Society and got rave reviews from That Pottery Place owner Bonnie Worsdall, whose business is directly across the street. She gave hand-made coffee mugs to all the residents when it opened.

“We do see a few more people walking around,” Worsdall said this week. “On the plus side, I’ve met quite a few staff who walk around two or three times a day making sure there is no garbage or people hanging around.”

The picture is not quite as rosy at Helmut’s Sausage Kitchen, midway between the two sites on the west side of Highway 97.

They do get people loitering in the bistro and some will tag-team to distract staff while a second person steals food, said an employee who did not want her name used. She can’t say for sure that these problems are caused by residents of either facility, but theft has increased in the last six or seven months.

With the strong opposition and petition campaign against the McCurdy facility – which the Mental Health Association will run - it’s incumbent on them to improve the situation in the Heath House neighbourhood.

“We know that, sometimes, when this type of housing is put into a neighbourhood, neighbours are concerned,” Samuels said. “Sometimes it has to do with us making sure they have the right information, that they hear us, see us and know that we want this to go well. It doesn’t serve us, as an organization, to have our housing residents acting inappropriately and doing bad things in the neighbourhood and making residents feel unsafe. As operators and as an organization, that’s not who we are.”

They've started doing their own neighbourhood patrols around Heath House, they check registration numbers on all bikes brought into the site with the RCMP to make sure they're not stolen and started collecting names of people living near the McCurdy Road site who want to sit on a community consultation committee.

Sekhon, at the Day’s Inn, did say that things had improved, but only after hiring their own security. Even if the problems ease, she’s still facing a backlash on social media sites that are giving her motel bad reviews.

“People are not coming back because they don’t feel safe,” she said.

Jaywalking across six lanes of Highway 97 is common with supportive housing at Heath House right on the highway and Hearthstone a couple of blocks away on the other side.
Jaywalking across six lanes of Highway 97 is common with supportive housing at Heath House right on the highway and Hearthstone a couple of blocks away on the other side.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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