As the City of Kelowna continues to monitor and manage local homelessness and housing needs, it is still struggling to find solutions to keep everyone safe in the downtown core.
“We know we need more shelter space in the city, and we must respect the legal rights of people to shelter outdoors when there is no room in the existing shelters,” said Darren Caul, community safety director.
Planning by the province, the City of Kelowna and the Journey Home Society continues but the city said space for temporary winter shelters has been tough to find.
“Tents are not a solution to homelessness, housing with supports is the solution,” said Sue Wheeler, social development manager. “While we have more than 100 units of housing scheduled to open in the spring, we are continuing to work with the province, our community partners and those with lived experience to try and secure supports and an adequate number of overnight shelter beds to accommodate people currently sleeping outside.”
B.C. law specifies that where there is insufficient housing and shelter space for people experiencing homelessness, a municipality cannot prohibit all public spaces from being used for temporary shelter. In these cases, a municipality must identify public space where it will allow overnight outdoor sheltering, which to date has been Leon Avenue in Kelowna.
“Our primary concern with the current use of tents for overnight sheltering is safety-related,” said Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting. “Specifically, the close grouping of the tents with highly combustible materials around, and the observed use of unsafe heaters create a fire or carbon monoxide risk to the residents.”
The city is aware of safety concerns from other communities in the area, which include fires, propane explosions and injuries.
“Our main focus is to continue to work with our partners to find and create more shelter and supportive living spaces with BC Housing and the Journey Home Society,” said Caul. “In the meantime, we’re all trying to keep people safe and maintain order in what is a not a good situation for anyone involved, including businesses.”
Additional RCMP foot patrols have been added to the area, accompanying existing patrols from the RCMP Downtown Enforcement Unit, Bylaw Services and Downtown Kelowna Association Patrol.
Through supportive housing projects, the city said 215 people who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Kelowna have been housed since 2017. New apartments planned for 2020-21 will see another 150 people in supportive housing, through provincial initiatives implemented by BC Housing.