A downtown Kelowna business owner is voicing her anger over what she said is increasing instances of violence occurring around her store from people who appear to be experiencing homelessness.
Raegan Hall — owner of Blond Women’s Retail Boutique in Kelowna for 16 years — sent an open letter to the Kelowna Downtown Business Association over the matter on Thursday afternoon.
In the letter, Hall said many of her employees have become increasingly frustrated and scared over the daily incidents they’ve had with people in the downtown core. Here is her email as written:
My name is Raegan Hall and I have been a downtown business of Blonde Women’s Retail Boutique for 16 years. From the trenches I can tell you that the daily condition of our downtown has never been such a disappointing embarrassment. Every day my employees report incidents of horrifying hassles from unsavory clientele whose only purpose when they come inside my store is to hurl insults and terrify my staff and customers, and steal.
These unfortunate residents have taken over. They have more rights than tax paying residents. These are not weekly or monthly disturbances, they are DAILY. My employees are terrified to come to work, and locals are coming downtown less and less because of this particular issue. Fortunately my business thrives in the summer when the tourists brave the streets, but even they are electing to visit alternative destinations because of the increasingly sketchy Kelowna vibe. I have travelled extensively and have always treasured visiting the downtown heart of cities and communities.
Downtowns are important, and this is why I originally invested in Kelowna’s in 2004. Approximately 180 businesses have closed or relocated from our downtown since I started my business. If this homeless and drug infested population does not get handled swiftly and properly, our once vibrant downtown is going to become a ghost town overrun with what looks to me like a zombie apocalypse.
I am sensitive to the predicament of these individuals, and the solution is simple, relocate the Gospel Mission. Our community is growing at a whiplash pace, so the faster that this relocation can happen, the better.
How can I help?
In an email response back to Hall three hours later, Downtown Kelowna Association executive director Mark Burley said the incident is a widespread problem not just being dealt with by the Gospel Mission.
While Burley acknowledged that the issue has been frustrating for all, his email highlighted at least one initiative that the city is doing to deal with with the escalating situation. Here is his response:
Thanks for your email.
The Downtown Kelowna Association is constantly working for and advocating on behalf of all Downtown Kelowna businesses. We consistently deal with the types of individuals that you refer to in your email. It is a widespread problem in Downtown and affects us with more frequency closer to Leon.
This issue is multifaceted and very frustrating for all. The Downtown Kelowna Association’s Downtown on Call and Clean Teams are out there every day doing the best they can to deal with situations and people that present issues they aren’t meant to deal with. But they do.
The presence of the Gospel Mission in Downtown Kelowna is one that has been here for 40 years. As the social issues change the influx of people to their facility has grown immensely. This is just one more facet of the social issue that we are dealing with.
The DKA is in constant contact with the city and continue to work to affect some change for all of us who work, live and own business in Downtown Kelowna.
I will continue to update the membership with any news as it becomes available.
Downtown Kelowna Association
Adding to the issue, a recently-published Regional District Central Okanagan housing assessment showed waitlistst for affordable housing has increased by 109 per cent since 2012.
Out of that 259 applicant waitlist, 42 per cent are low-income seniors.