Sidewalk bylaw making life even harder for Kelowna's homeless

Cheralyn Redford is breaking a new Kelowna bylaw that makes sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk punishable by a $50 fine.


KELOWNA - Cheralyn Redford is cold.

It’s noon and the temperature in downtown Kelowna is well below freezing. She’d go home if she could, but for more than a year she’s been living on the streets or in a car.

“It sucks,” she says. “I’m on disability… and I don’t get enough to pay rent anywhere in Kelowna.”

Cheralyn is 31 and doesn’t mind being called homeless. She does, however, have a problem with a new bylaw Kelowna City Councillors passed Monday that gives the city and RCMP authority to fine homeless people $50 for sitting, leaning or sleeping on a sidewalk. Even at night.

“We’re homeless, where are we supposed to go?” she asks. “We don’t have any money.”

Redford is breaking the bylaw right now. She's sitting on the sidewalk on Leon Avenue wearing a toque and winter jacket and huddled under a duvet a stranger gave her that morning. She shows a small electric space heater she carries around with her and uses wherever she can find power. But she can never stay long in one place.

“People come along and they kick us out,” she says. “'Get up, gotta go, move on or we’re going to arrest you.'”

Leon Avenue in Kelowna is lined by people huddled under blankets trying to keep warm.
Leon Avenue in Kelowna is lined by people huddled under blankets trying to keep warm.

She says while she hasn’t heard of anyone being fined yet, the bylaw has already made life more difficult for them.

“You never get a full night sleep because you have to wake up and move,” she says. “We wait until they’re gone then lay down and go back to sleep. I’m not sure where they want us to go.”

The bylaw has its critics. Yesterday, Dec. 5, roughly 100 people sat down in front of City Hall in protest. Council has responded and later this month will consider a $200,000 Homeless-Serving Systems Strategy meant to address the growing number of homeless in the city. Redford calls it a start but says more affordable housing is needed and the bylaw has to go.

The Kelowna Gospel Mission has been full to capacity the last few nights as the temperature plummeted and Redford is one of around 20 people sitting or sleeping on Leon Avenue.

“We don’t want to be outside, we have to be outside,” she says. “(A bylaw) is not going to change the fact that we’re homeless.”

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