Rutland residents fear downtown Kelowna’s problems are being dumped on them | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Rutland residents fear downtown Kelowna’s problems are being dumped on them

Image Credit: Rutland for Safe Neighbourhoods

There’s a string of tents next to the Okanagan Rail Trail in downtown Kelowna where people with no place to live sleep every night.

On any given night there are more than 200 people sleeping rough in the city. Most of them are downtown but residents in the Rutland neighbourhood fear more of them are headed their way.

For many years, people with no fixed address went to pick up their monthly assistance cheques at the social services office on Dilworth Drive, which was relatively close to downtown. That changed on April 11 when the office moved to Highway 33 near Dougall Road in Rutland.

READ MORE: Poilievre’s negative comments about Kelowna 'poverty porn': homelessness expert


“During those (cheque distribution) days, there’s an increase in people,” Lynn Jack, president of the Rutland Residents Association, told “They get their cheques, then they just go across the street or to some other place and they’re already shooting up. That wasn’t happening before.”

Some people come up a day or two before the monthly payday and hang around, or linger a couple of days after.

“As a residents association we asked the question: ‘Where are the majority of your clients?” Jack said. “At the first meeting, the regional manager said: ‘Well the majority of our clients are in the downtown area.’ So we questioned: ‘Why are you putting this office, in Rutland?’ ‘Well, it was convenient. The building was there.’”

There are no public washrooms or other services nearby.

“Some of the people downtown have complained to social services that the trek up here from downtown is overwhelming to them.” Jack said. “And then they have to go back downtown.”

The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction doesn't put it quite that way.

“The Real Property Division from the Ministry of Citizens’ Services explored potential locations for the office within Kelowna and purchased the one in Rutland because it had the necessary city zoning to operate an income assistance office for in-person client services,” it said in an email to “Prior to the move, the ministry reviewed the Kelowna caseload map, which showed that many of the clients were from the Rutland area.”

It added that some clients get financial services through PIERS, a contracted service provider located downtown.

The office relocation is the latest and, in some ways, the most visible example of the shifting of services for the homeless to Rutland in recent years, starting with Hearthstone and Heath House supportive housing complexes that opened in October 2018 and January 2019 respectively.

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

“The community is deteriorating in the past five years like you would not believe,” Cody Shannon told “The trash around here is unbelievable. We have addicts on every single corner now. Shopping carts everywhere.”

Shannon moved to Kelowna 20 years ago and bought a house in Rutland 10 years ago, seeing it as a good neighbourhood to raise his family.

Now he won’t let his son ride his bike to the corner store to get a slurpy without a cell phone for fear he’ll be jumped. Shannon contacted out of frustration about the worsening situation that’s just highlighted by the problems around the new office.

“My real problem is none of the politicians are talking about it,” Shannon said. “(MLA Renee) Merrifield doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. (MLA Norm) Letnick said something five years ago that maybe Rutland has pulled its weight enough. Obviously now we haven’t and we have a welfare office here in Rutland.

“I’ve contacted every single political office I can think of and the community safety office around here and basically I’m getting the same thing: ‘We’re talking about it.’ I don’t want to see talks anymore. I want to see people out here cleaning up our streets.”

Jack with the local residents association doesn’t paint such a grim picture.

“We get tired of media, and different parts of the community talking us down, that we’re this hot bed of drugs and thievery,” she said. “We’re not.”

Rutland is a huge geographic area stretching from Springfield Road to Old Vernon Road and from Highway 97 to Black Mountain, she pointed out.

There used to be one notoriously bad, one block street, Hein Road, Jack said. Then Heath House and Hearthstone opened.

“They were for the street entrenched people,” Jack said. “They allowed people who were on the street for a long time to house there with no rules. Maybe they thought they were putting that into an industrial area but there actually are a few streets around there with young families.”

Since then supportive housing complexes Samuel Place on McIntosh Road (2020) and McCurdy Place (2021) have opened, McCurdy Place coming despite the fact 13,000 people signed petitions against it.

READ MORE: Controversial Kelowna supportive housing facility will be 'dry'

Jack said there's an increase in what she calls drug dysfunction.

“It’s people passed out in parks. It’s people who don’t care where they go to bathroom or where they screw with somebody," she said. "It’s the dysfunction of it that has increased. This is a working family community with seniors and we’re a little bit concerned.”

She’s afraid the new social services office is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Everything downtown is temporary,” Jack said. “It’s a temporary shelter. It’s a temporary campground. It’s a temporary hygiene centre. So, when somebody decides to develop that property, then what? We’re concerned that they might push to have more permanent services in Rutland."

To her, it's not about serving the needs of the people where they live. It's all about economics since land is cheaper in Rutland.

“Guess what? We have a lot of people here who are valuable as people, who are entitled to have their own safety and not having to worry about something that is being imported and that’s dysfunctional downtown. We don’t want it to be pushed into Rutland.”

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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