Kelowna mayor defends sidewalk vagrancy ban

Colin Basran says homeless sleeping on sidewalks is intimidating to those who congregate on city streets

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran.

Kelowna mayor says extending the city’s ban on sitting and sleeping on city sidewalks is not a move harass the homeless.

Colin Basran said Tuesday council’s extension of the ban, already in place between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., to cover all hours of the day and night is aimed at preventing people from obstructing sidewalks, stopping accessibility of others and curbing what he called the “intimidation” of people by those who would congregate on city streets.

“I want to be abundantly clear that the City of Kelowna is not targeting people sleeping on our streets with the purpose of harassing or incarcerating our most vulnerable residents,” said Basran.

“The purpose of this bylaw is to prevent people from obstructing sidewalks and preventing accessibility for residents.”

Saying people who live and work downtown have identified “sidewalk obstructions” as a problem, Basran said in a lengthy statement sent to the media Tuesday morning some “uninformed” media reports and social media comments had portrayed the city’s action as a targeted program to harass the homeless.

“Enforcement in these matters is always in response to complaints,” said the mayor. “(Bylaw) officers are not out searching the streets for someone to fine.”

Currently, the fine for sitting on, or sleeping on, the sidewalk in Kelowna during the day is $50.

On Monday council approved — as part of a larger series of “housekeeping” measures — an extension of the existing ban to 24 hours a day.

“The city has grown from a small, rural orchard community to a mid-sized city,” Kelowna’s bylaw services manager Greg Wise told city council Monday prior to council approving the expansion of the ban. “Changes are needed.”

He called expansion of the ban an additional tool for bylaw enforcement officers, adding the current 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. time frame is insufficient.

Council was told as more people move downtown and others head downtown in the evening hours to enjoy what Kelowna has to offer in the way of entertainment, restaurants and recreation, the issue of city sidewalks being blocked has become a bigger issue.

And he added while the exiting ban was put in place in “the old days,” not making it cover the entire 24-hour period was an oversight.

In addition to the sidewalk sleeping and sitting ban, council also approved a city staff request to reduce the time the city holds property collected from abandoned public encampments to 14 days from the current 60 days.

It also changed its definition of the term “chattel,” to exclude items such as soiled clothing or bedding, perishable foods and personal hygiene items. They can now be discarded by the city.

Wise said currently only about one per cent of items collected by the city from abandoned encampments in places such as alleyways and an other city property, is claimed. And the city is running out of space to store the rest.

Last week, city approved a plan to increase the amount of containers supplied by the city’s Gospel Mission for the homeless to store their belongings.

In his statement, Basran also talked about the Gospel Mission storage lockers and touted other measures the city is taking to deal with the issue of homelessness such as hiring a social development manager this year to develop a homelessness strategy.

He talked of work being done by other groups, the the addition of of more social housing in the city and work by mental health professionals to help those on the street.

“Bylaw enforcement is just one small part of a more holistic approach to dealing with homelessness and street issues in Kelowna,” said Basran, adding the issue is a top priority for his council.

A recent homelessness survey in the city counted 223 people living on the street in Kelowna, but the mayor said local officials know the true number is much larger.

“The (homeless) population tends to grow in the summer, which raises the profile and concern among residents and businesses,” said Basran.

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