Why neighbouring Kelowna businesses are 'scared' of Cornerstone shelter's ongoing operation - InfoNews

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Why neighbouring Kelowna businesses are 'scared' of Cornerstone shelter's ongoing operation

It was fairly quiet outside the Cornerstone Emergency Shelter on a Friday morning but its ongoing operation is upsetting neighbouring buisinesses.
May 30, 2019 - 1:00 PM

KELOWNA - It looks like the Chamber of Commerce will get an earful when it surveys businesses impacted by the continuing existence of the Cornerstone Emergency Shelter in Downtown Kelowna.

“It’s scary at times,” Paige Johns, manager of Tradesman Tattoo Company, just around the corner on Pandosy Street, told iNFOnews.ca. “I won’t let women walk out to their cars alone at night.”

She’s frequently picking up used needles in the back alley, has seen drug deals in the alley on a regular basis and won’t take the store’s garbage out on her own because people shoot up in the back doorway.

But other business owners, who didn’t want to give names out of fear or retaliation, have had worse experiences.

One business owner had a woman roll a joint inside the store, has a picture of a woman urinating in a planter outside the door and has lost customers because they don’t want to park on the street.

Johns, and others, have been yelled at, sworn at and fingered.

The Cornerstone Emergency Shelter opened at 426 Leon Ave. in the fall of 2017 as just that — an emergency shelter during a particularly cold winter. It was supposed to close the following spring. Its funding has been repeatedly extended as B.C. Housing continues to work with the city, and others, trying to find a new location and other options for the homeless.

The last extension was to June 30, but B.C. Housing announced on May 17 that it was staying open indefinitely.

That prompted Kelowna Chamber of Commerce to issue a news release last week asking what “indefinite” meant and saying it was going to “seek input from businesses near the shelter to better understand their concerns.”

One concern raised by a business owner who, again didn’t want to be identified, was the fact that they recently renewed the shop’s lease for two years based on the assurance that Cornerstone would be closed by the end of June.

That person then asked why the shelter had not been moved to the former RCMP building on Doyle Avenue when it closed two years ago. It has since been demolished.

Those at the tattoo shop were quite vocal and quite happy to go on record.

“It’s upsetting, if you bring up something to an officer (bylaw or RCMP) they get mad at us for bringing it up,” said Piercer Richard Buckle. “It’s not like we’re blaming them for the problem. They jump down your throat because they think they’re being attacked.”

He and Johns talked about how the mental health and addiction issues aren’t being properly addressed.

“We need to work on prevention as a community, not just band-aid solutions,” Buckle said.

“I get how this works,” Johns added. “I like these people. I get that mental health is a problem and that’s not even getting handled. They figure building more housing is the solution. Homelessness is not the problem, it’s the addiction.

“A negative action towards this is not going to fix anything and I understand that. But, at the same time, why do people down here have to be worried about being here and why do my clients have to be afraid about walking to their cars?”

Most of those interviewed did acknowledge that the problems are not caused by all residents of Cornerstone - some are even customers - or necessarily by residents of the shelter at all. But Johns, who has been at Tradesman Tatoo since before the shelter opened, said it is definitely worse than before the shelter and not getting any better

B.C. Housing has opened more about 100 supportive housing spaces in Kelowna in the last few months, which provided housing for some of those displaced when the Inn From the Cold shelter closed in January, and another 100 such beds should open by early next year.

But Cornerstone is expected to have all 80 beds filled for the foreseeable future, according to Dawn Himer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society that manages Cornerstone and a number of supportive housing facilities in Kelowna.

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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