Residents questioning site of new homeless shelters in Kelowna – Okanagan
Questions are rising about temporary homeless shelters that will be parked alongside Highway 97 in Kelowna, B.C.
The City of Kelowna and the Ministry of Housing released the news on Thursday, an announcement that came out of the blue — especially to businesses located along the stretch of Highway 97 where the shelters will be situated.
“I found out from my wife yesterday,” said Jason Tucker, sales manager at Cap-It Genuine Truckware, one of several businesses in the area. “I got a screenshot to me in the morning, saying ‘Did you know anything about this?’ Which I didn’t.”
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The shelters, which will house 60 people, will be placed on a thin strip of city-owned land between Highway 97 and nearby retail stores in a business park.
The site will be fenced, with the city noting a five-year lease is in place with an option to renew for an additional five years.
Tucker said he heard about the announcement via the media, adding, “We haven’t received a letter from anybody yet. So it’s a little frustrating.”
He said, “Communication is big in the world today. I mean, it’s not hard to pick up the phone or pop in or send an email. So having no communication on something as large as this matter is frustrating.”
Tucker also cited concerns about safety for the business and clients, noting “We’ve had previous incidents with that, often break-and-enter, and we’re not even having them living right beside us. So definitely concerned about that.”
The city’s social development manager, Colleen Cornock, clarified that the site will feature modular ATCO-style units as opposed to the tiny homes being placed along Crowley Avenue.
The modular units — the number is yet to be determined — will house 60 residents.
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Still, asked why the 2700 block of Highway 97 was chosen as the site, Cornock said the property is city-owned, utilities are readily accessible, and the project can move quickly.
“Land is chosen because of accessibility. So it will have access to Highway 97,” said Cornock. “Transportation is available in that area.
“It’s really about utilities, accessibility of the land. That’s why we choose the locations that we do.”
Asked why area businesses weren’t consulted, Cornock said it was a multi-level project and an emergency shelter-type response.
“Our community safety staff have already spoken with individuals. I would say the reaction for businesses was quite mixed,” said Cornock.
“Some did have concerns, others we got hugs, that it’s welcome to the neighbourhood, that it’s a response to a growing community need.”
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Nick Langelaan, co-owner of M and M Performance, said the news was surprising and upsetting.
“The biggest reason why it hits hard for us is because we’ve had a pretty substantial history with issues, with thefts, sadly enough,” said Langelaan.
He said businesses in the area have outdoor areas that are gated and alarmed, but that “doesn’t stop someone from snipping that fence, going in and stealing some stuff that’s valuable, some stuff that isn’t valuable.”
Langelaan said along with homeless encampments close to the nearby Okanagan Rail Trail, the newest site “isn’t going to help.”
“We try to look at it from all points. It’s a sad issue, it’s a serious issue in Kelowna; we can see that. Where’s the perfect place to put one of these developments?
“Do I think alongside Highway 97, in a business park which has multiple retail businesses … I really think it’s not the best spot for it.”
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He’s not the only one who thinks that way.
In a letter sent to the media, resident Peter Dixon gave props to the city for being proactive, but said “to place this project on one of the most high-profile locations in the city is an absolute head-scratcher.”
“Kelowna already has a national reputation for our homeless problem thanks in large part to Mr. Poilievre comparing Kelowna’s homeless problem to a third-world country.
“Imagine all the tourists (never mind those of us who live here) making their way from the airport to downtown and having to drive by this extremely high-profile location.”
He also said, “You must be aware that the rail trail directly behind this location has a huge problem with the homeless population, crime, hazards, etc. How do you not realize placing a concentrated population of homeless in this location will not exacerbate the issues along the rail trail? Businesses are already dealing with vandalism and sanitary issues daily in this area.
“I am hopeful the city has other vacant land that would be a more appropriate location.”
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