Rutland doesn't need more supportive housing yet, says Kelowna Lake Country MLA | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Rutland doesn't need more supportive housing yet, says Kelowna Lake Country MLA

B.C. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick is pictured in this file photo.
June 14, 2019 - 11:43 AM

KELOWNA - In an open letter to Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, local MLA Norm Letnick made a plea for Rutlanders to be spared from another supportive housing project.

“The people of Rutland are very generous and caring and have done more than their fair share when it comes to housing the hardest to house,” Letnick wrote in his letter.

“However since the opening of the Heath House and Hearthstone facilities I as the local MLA have heard from many residents that they are feeling overwhelmed by the increased number of people openly using drugs, exposure to used needles, and general sense of feeling unsafe in their own neighbourhood.”

Letnick said he understands the Canadian Mental Health Association as the operator believes it has little control over much of what is happening in the area, but nevertheless is leading a collective effort to develop a strategy to address these neighbourhood issues. For that, he said, he’s thankful.

He also said he supports the city’s Journey Home Strategy.

“However to earn the social license required for additional supportive housing projects to proceed I believe it’s the responsibility of the provincial government and its partner agencies to demonstrate that they can house people actively taking drugs without adversely impacting their surrounding neighbourhood,” he said. “Currently that is not the case.”

Until that time, he said, he’d like to see a “pause” on this new supportive housing project until the issues surrounding the existing Rutland projects are resolved to their neighbourhood’s satisfaction or alternatively create housing which has a better chance of meeting with community support.

Concerns have been raised by numerous Rutland residents in recent months.

Just last week Matthew Singer, a third-generation resident of the area, spoke with to say that vagrancy, open drug use and crime has spiralled out of control in the area. He and his neighbour Steve Wraith are fed up with the endless stream of illicit activity on their street and they're asking the City of Kelowna to step up.

"It's so bad that kids can't even go outside and play," Singer said. "I believe Rutland's in a state of crisis."

Singer and Wraith say they see used needles and open drug use in their neighbourhood on a daily basis. They've often seen people walking down the streets with needles sticking out of their legs. Singer's truck has been broken into multiple times. One night he found a naked man hiding in his garage.

Earlier in the year a resident from Heath House, one of the projects Letnick mentioned in his letter, said the problems with drug use and theft had spiralled out of control.

"There are bikes on shopping carts, half broken down bikes, bikes scraped down with steak knives," he said. "It's shady and I don't appreciate it ... These are all the same low functioning drug addicts I was in the homeless shelter with."

"There needs to be some structure and rules. Having a wet house only makes sense if there's a transitional motivator to stop doing drugs,” said the man, who asked that his name be left out of the story for the sake of his own safety.

He said he too has used drugs destructively, and continues to struggle with mental health issues and he looked to Heath House as a step to repairing both. But he says he’s not the norm.

"The services are there but people are not interested in using them," he said, adding he thinks 25 per cent of the people at Heath House will get the help they need and the other 75 per cent have less desire to do so.

Jessica Samuels, a spokesperson for Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna, at that time said the organization is aware of some of the issues, like the bikes, and knows there will be growing pains as they find their place in the community.

“Just as everybody does when they move, the residents are settling in to a new rhythm,” she said.

“We have some individuals who have been living on the streets for four or five years. There’s a certain amount of settling that comes with that and we have knowledgable and empathetic staff who can form bonds with residents and help them work through it.”

She also said they work closely with police to address illegal activities as they arise.

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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