Neighbour happy to have Kelowna supportive housing complex across the street - InfoNews

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Neighbour happy to have Kelowna supportive housing complex across the street

Hearthstone is a modular supportive housing on Commerce Avenue in Kelowna
October 31, 2018 - 4:26 PM

KELOWNA - Formerly homeless people moving into a new housing complex next week will be greeted with special hand-made coffee mugs from a neighbour who was initially concerned about the project.

“I’m very excited for the people moving in there,” Bonnie Worsdall, owner of That Pottery Place told iNFOnews.ca. “They are people in our community who deserve to have a place to live.”

She originally opposed the B.C. Housing proposal to move what she called “job shacks” from other sites.

“When they revisited that concept and came back with this beautiful building here, it’s good,” she said. “It looks like it fits in with the rest of the neighbourhood. It’s very clean. They’ve been working very hard to get it done.”

Worsdall and the 25 people who do pottery in her shop set about making 50 individually designed and hand-made mugs to welcome the new tenants.

These are two of 50 hand-made mugs from That Pottery Place, donated to the tenants moving into Hearthstone supportive housing next week.
These are two of 50 hand-made mugs from That Pottery Place, donated to the tenants moving into Hearthstone supportive housing next week.

Hearthstone is a 46-unit, three-storey modular building at 1642 Commerce Ave. that will actually house 51 people since it may be the first such facility in the Interior of B.C. that offers units for couples. There will also be three dogs, two cats and a few people in wheelchair-friendly units.

“There’s only five accessible units,” said Gaelene Askeland, executive director of the John Howard Society that will manage the facility. “But, we have 21 on the waiting list who need an accessible unit.”

The $8 million project is part of the Building B.C. Rapid Response to Homelessness program and brings the total of supportive housing units in Kelowna to 248, with another 52 to 54 proposed for Agassiz Road near Orchard Place that has triggered strong neighbourhood opposition.

Still, there is a long ways to go to fill the need as there are about 500 people on the list waiting for supportive housing. The most recent count of homeless people living in Kelowna found 286 people without homes.

Askeland and others from B.C. Housing — which funded the project — and Interior Health, gave members of the media a tour of the facility.

Each unit is about 300 square feet and not unlike a hotel room, with a bed, fridge, two burner counter top stove and bathroom. Each is wired with cable so donations of TVs and stainless steel pots can be dropped off at the Share Thrift Store at 581 Gaston Ave. to help those moving in as they don’t have TVs or pots and can only bring two bins of personal possessions with them.

There is a kitchen that will provide one full hot meal each day and a light breakfast. Tenants will have to pay rent to live there.

Gaelene Askeland, executive director of John Howard Society, shows the kitchen area of new Hearthstone housing unit in Kelowna, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.
Gaelene Askeland, executive director of John Howard Society, shows the kitchen area of new Hearthstone housing unit in Kelowna, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.

All tenants will be carefully screened to be suitable for the facility and match the type of support services it offers. It will be staffed by at least two people at all times.

“We recognize the neighbourhood’s sense of security is very important to them,” Ann Howard, regional director for B.C. Housing said. “But the people who live here also want to be safe.”

Access is restricted between floors and each room has its own lock.

Askeland explained that even though many of the tenants have been living rough or in shelters, they need to feel secure.

“These people are beaten all the time,” she said. “They’re sworn at. They’re spit on. We want to keep them as safe as we can.”

As a supportive housing complex, it will have tenants who have substance use issues — Askeland estimated at least 50 per cent will — so they are allowed to use drugs and alcohol in their own rooms, just like anyone else would be in their own home.

“If one thing they have going on in their lives is they use substances, they can have a safe space to use and continue to stay alive,” she said, referring to the small room next to the office where tenants can access overdose kits and staff can call emergency services, if necessary. The focus is on getting shelter for people as a first step to them making other positive changes in their lives so counselling and other services will be readily available.

Whether they have a positive or negative impact on the neighbours – which are exclusively businesses as it’s located off Enterprise Road between Highway 33 and Leathhead Road – remains to be seen.

If the Cardington Apartments are any indication, it’s not likely to be a problem.

“These people are wonderful,” said Leo Bartels, manager of One Big Table next door to the Cardington Apartments on St. Paul Street.

The shop has a “pay it forward” bowl where people can donate to provide coffee or meals to those who can’t afford it themselves.

“Almost 100 per cent of the time they (the tenants) are wonderful,” he said.

A quick survey of other businesses nearby found generally positive responses.

“It hasn’t changed the neighbourhood in a bad way,” one business owner said as he rushed off to a meeting.

Hearthstone has a lease and an option on the Commerce Avenue property that will likely see it remain in place for at least the next seven years.


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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