Businesses concerned about the state of downtown Kelowna

A recent survey conducted by the chamber showed businesses are concerned about the environment

Downtown businesses are increasingly concerned about the state of the street environment, especially in the Leon and Lawrence area, according to a recent survey conducted by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber asked whether safety and security concerns had changed over the last year; the majority (82 per cent) of the respondents stated their concern had increased, the chamber said in its news release.

The chamber surveyed its downtown business members in late July to gain better information on the business environment, especially in the Leon – Lawrence area.

“Although our downtown members make up just a small part (15 per cent) of our 1,200 membership, their concerns are important to us,” said Tom Dyas, past president of the Chamber of Commerce in Kelowna.

READ MORE: Vancouver Career College cuts courses after homeless shelter remains in Kelowna

However, there are clear trends that are a concern – including that businesses are incurring additional costs related to an increase in nuisance and criminal activity in the downtown. Much of this appears to centre on increased security and maintenance costs, the chamber said in its news release.

READ MORE: Kelowna homelessness count shows more people without shelter

“We first raised our concern with the city last fall,” said Dyas. “The city has responded with a number of initiatives aimed at improving conditions in the downtown and the business community is appreciative of that effort but believe more can be done. We are also hopeful that the recent hiring of former RCMP superintendent Bill McKinnon to review the situation downtown and elsewhere will lead to tangible action to improve safety for both customers and those who work downtown.”

According to a statement issued by Rajvir Rao, with BC Housing, the temporary homeless shelter located on Leon Avenue will not be operating past March 31, 2019.

“We recognize the location for this facility is not ideal. We have been looking for alternative locations for several months and continue to do so. The local business community volunteered to help in the search for a new shelter location, but they were also unable to bring forward options,” she said via email.

“The province recognizes that there is an immediate need to provide housing and support services to those experiencing homelessness in Kelowna. Our goal is to provide people with housing instead of shelter beds. There are multiple supportive housing projects in development in Kelowna and our goal is to get people off the streets, out of shelters and into housing.

“Some residents at the shelter will move over to two new supportive housing projects that will be opening this fall: 46 new homes at the Commerce Avenue project and 42 new units of supportive housing at the Heath House renovation located at 2639 Hwy 97 North.

“BC Housing is also proposing an additional supportive housing project on Agassiz Avenue that would provide more much-needed homes for those in need.”

READ MORE: Ground-breaking for modular housing for homeless in Kelowna

The survey respondents of the chamber’s survey encouraged the chamber to lobby the city and province to increase funding for mental health and additional services to help those who need it. Ensuring people have a roof over their heads is important but so too is having adequate resources to help those who are severely addicted or have mental health challenges, the release said.

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