Supportive housing brings crime? Not according to Kelowna's data | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Supportive housing brings crime? Not according to Kelowna's data

Mariah and Swan were two of the first residents to move into Samuel Place supportive housing in March.
Image Credit: Submitted/B.C. Housing
August 02, 2020 - 8:00 AM

For the first time in the history of controversial supportive housing complexes in Kelowna, the city has looked at crime data to see if they bring crime with them.

Samuel Place on McIntosh Road in Rutland opened 50 rooms for the homeless in mid-March under the management of the John Howard Society.

Darren Caul, the City of Kelowna’s community safety director, looked at property crime stats for things like theft under $5,000, mischief and residential and business break-ins within 200 metres of the building.

“The number of reported incidences from April to June 2020 remains consistent with the figure we saw in 2019,” Caul told

The number of crimes within 500 metres dropped significantly during that time period but that’s consistent with the overall drop in crime this year versus last year due to COVID-19.

Caul said the actual data belongs to the RCMP so he could not release specifics but the number of crimes within 200 metres was in single digits so it’s hard to draw conclusions from such a limited data set.

Still, this is in sharp contrast to the public outcry over the opening of Heath House on Highway 97 about a year earlier. Following that opening there was a flood of complaints from local business about a sharp rise in crime.

“We had to hire security,” Jazz Sekhon, sales manager for the Day’s Inn that’s located right next door, told “We couldn’t deal with all the break-ins, people walking around the property, knocking on doors in the middle of the night.”

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

The difference can’t necessarily be attributed to the fact that Samuel Place is managed by the John Howard Society versus the Canadian Mental Health Association at Heath House.

Nor is the difference necessarily due to the mix of residents selected for each site – presumably they have the same range of addiction, mental health and other issues to cope with that led to their homelessness in the first place.

Instead, it might come down to a concept called crime prevention through environmental design.

Last fall, city council instructed staff to find a better way to integrate supportive housing projects into neighbourhoods. In February, council adopted a “Community Inclusion Model.”

READ MORE: Kelowna has new strategy to win support from residents on homelessness issues

That included sending staff into neighbourhoods before facilities open to look at things like lighting, signage and landscaping in order to make changes that could reduce the opportunity for crime and increase people’s sense of safety.

“Say you have an alleyway between two neighbourhoods that becomes dark and overgrown and graffiti ridden,” Caul said. “You and I might not feel comfortable to travel through that space. Then, when you trim back the trees and you eradicate the graffiti and you take out the broken fence and you improve the lighting, all of a sudden it becomes a regular alleyway that connects two neighbourhoods that is now regularly used."

Other things that can be done is for neighbours to trim back the foliage in their yards so they have a better view of the street or to to put a swing and picnic table in a green space in the middle of a cul-de-sac.

“Those increase the territoriality and defensibility of those spaces,” Caul said.

This is the first time that this type of effort has been put into a neighbourhood prior to a facility opening but it also comes with community consultations and meetings between the operators and the neighbours.

Caul hopes to have time to go back through the data to look to see if there really was a spike in crime when Heath House opened, noting that such data analysis is new territory for the city.

He also cautioned that crime statistics are only one element of reviewing how these facilities fit into neighbourhoods.

“Data is important,” Caul said. “It is a barometer but it’s a very imperfect barometer.”

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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