New 'bridge' housing likely won't ease frustrations at Kelowna’s homeless camp - InfoNews

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New 'bridge' housing likely won't ease frustrations at Kelowna’s homeless camp

Packing up for the day at Kelowna's homeless campground off Recreation Avenue today, Dec. 3, meant moving bins of belongings into the warming shelter.
December 03, 2019 - 5:30 PM

Opening up 40 new indoor spaces for Kelowna’s homeless was not welcome news to some of those tenting overnight in a city-sanctioned campground in the North End of downtown.

The idea is to move people living in the Gospel Mission and Crossroads shelters into the new spaces on Fuller Avenue, opening beds in the two existing shelters for the homeless campers.

“Nobody will go in there (shelters),” camper Gary Baker predicted. “They’ve been in there. It’s very hostile - get up at this time, go to bed at this time. What if I want to work night shift? What if I want a date? You’re not allowed to leave.”

He said he’s been banned from the Gospel Mission because of a jealous boyfriend.

The other problem, he indicated, is that it doesn’t come close to addressing the needs of all the homeless in Kelowna.

“There’s 120 of us homeless all together,” Baker said. “They disperse them to make it look like there’s not as many people.”

City of Kelowna staff don’t stick their heads into the tents to count how many people are sleeping in the campground so there is not an exact count, Darren Caul, the city’s community safety director, told iNFOnews.ca.

He disputed Baker’s estimate of 120. At the peak, about a month ago, there may have been 100 homeless people camped on Leon Avenue, Caul said. He understood some of those had viable alternative accommodation. If he’s right, there are many who have opted for other places to sleep.

Caul estimates there are 30 to 40 at the Recreation Avenue campsite and he knows of at least 10 others who camp overnight in other locations.

“It (Fuller) won’t resolve our current position entirely,” he told iNFOnews.ca. “We can comfortably assume there are more than 40 (homeless).”

The City and B.C. Housing are continuing to look for more emergency shelter spaces, a news release from B.C. Housing stated.

Once Fuller opens, if there are enough “adequate shelter spaces” in the city, bylaw officers can stop people from camping out overnight if they choose not to access those spaces. But, the number in the shelters and on the streets constantly fluctuates, Caul said.

And, since Fuller won’t open for a couple of weeks, there are other problems at the campground that are causing tension.

The campers are supposed to pack up and store their tents and belongings in two secure containers by 9 a.m. every day.

Some were still packing up after 10 this morning, Dec. 3, with one tent still standing. A man named Tom was struggling to pack up that tent as Lisa Redl was waiting to take him to hospital.

Tom had been up until 11:30 last night setting up his tent, got into a fight with people shooting up drugs in the large on-site warming tent and had possible pneumonia, Redl said.

“He’s a grown man, lying in there curled up in a fetal position,” she said. “He’s so humiliated. He won’t come out in his pyjamas.”

Her plan was to take him from hospital when he's ready and put him up in a motel for a few days, using money from an anonymous donor.

Redl and a couple of friends have been visiting the camp regularly since it was set up last week. She’s seen what she calls the colours of three different gangs in the warming tent along with people coming from outside the camp to shoot up, then leave. She saw a man looking petrified after being sent there because there was no room at the Gospel Mission.

“There needs to be a bit of humanity here, a bit of dignity,” she said.

There needs to be at least two warming tents, Redl said, one for the drug users and one for others. There needs to be running water, showers and electricity for campers to use.

“They should have everything the Gospel Mission has,” she said.

“It is not required, both from case law and best practices from other municipalities,” Caul said in response. “We are providing temporary infrastructure for people who need to shelter overnight so they are able to do so in a safe way and as a better alternative to what was occurring on Leon Avenue.

“We absolutely know this is not ideal. It’s far, far from ideal and that’s why our focus continues to be on providing more suitable infrastructure and housing as is evidenced by the Fuller announcement.”

Bylaw officers secure containers where homeless campers are to store their tents and provisions every morning at the Recreation Avenue campground.
Bylaw officers secure containers where homeless campers are to store their tents and provisions every morning at the Recreation Avenue campground.

Another struggle for the campers is that they are not allowed to have heaters or electricity in their tents. The City set up a 400-square-foot tent with external heaters as a warming shelter.

“City bylaws has taken two generators from me. Power packs. All my electronics. Two car batteries. A 1,000-watt power converter and a solar panel so we were able to charge up our stuff," Baker said. "We weren’t allowed to have that on the property. Only one generator – their generator.”

He turned to a bylaw officer to complain about other bylaw officers throwing stuff out when they open the storage containers. That led to a heated exchange with the bylaw officer saying he would talk to Baker once Baker calmed down.

While initially placed there for last weekend’s cold snap, the warming shelter is likely to stay longer as more cold weather is on the horizon, Caul said.

As for possible drug use in the warming tent, Caul noted that there is no “operator” for the site to monitor behaviour although it is patrolled by RCMP, bylaws and security guards.

“A lot of the challenges that existed on Leon, of course, continue in our current area,” he said. “It’s a very diverse population that brings with it a number of challenges and complexities, aggravated by the improvised nature of a temporary overnight sheltering site.”

Baker said there has been a lot of support from the community, but protests as well.

The new Fuller facility isn’t scheduled to open until mid-December.


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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