The City of Kelowna is asking people who want to donate items to people experiencing homelessness at the Recreation Avenue site to donate through existing agencies rather than directly to the camp.
The city said many people have offered donations but the best way of ensuring those items are properly distributed is to give to the organizations helping out on-site.
“It is amazing to see this outpouring of compassion from the community,” said Darren Caul, Director of Community Safety for the City of Kelowna. “However, approximately 350 kilos of abandoned materials and food are collected and removed from the Recreation Avenue site daily. Directing donations to the appropriate non-profit agencies will ensure that less is thrown out and benefit more people while ensuring Recreation Avenue is used for its intended purpose of overnight sheltering only.”
According to the city, the Recreation Avenue site is intended to only permit temporary overnight sheltering and is not intended to be the site of an ongoing, continuously occupied homeless encampment.
Drawing from the experiences of other municipalities with ongoing homeless encampments, the city said they quickly escalate in size and complexity and create hazards and dangers that impact people experiencing homelessness as well as the surrounding community.
The city said while awaiting stable sheltering solutions to be developed and opened, it is committed to striking a balance between the health and safety needs of those sheltering outside and the needs of the community. This will be achieved, the city said, by not enabling a 24/7 long-standing, entrenched tent-city encampment.
“Our primary focus is always to ensure the safety of everyone who lives in our community. We know, in speaking with our colleagues across the province and the country, the safety risks to those living in camps, the community and our emergency response personnel increases the longer these camps are established,” said Brent Mundle, Kelowna RCMP superintendent.
“While we recognize the need to support those in crisis, we also want to ensure there is a respected balance of safety and care within our community.”
Among the several active agencies on-site is Interior Health, which is providing mental health and substance use outreach services to the site twice daily. The provincial health agency also provides community-based mental health and substance use services at the Outreach Urban Health Centre at 455 Leon Ave and the Community Health and Services Centre at 505 Doyle Avenue.
“The large warming tent on site has helped us to significantly reduce the use of and need for propane heaters and candles in tents, which pose a risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Travis Whiting, chief of the Kelowna Fire Department.
“Incidents here in Kelowna over the past month, as well as incidents seen in other communities with established tent cities, show these risks to be very real.”
Blankets, hats, mittens and hand warmers are also being offered at the site. Basic hygienic amenities such as toilets, garbage disposal and sharps disposals are provided. Security is on-site and is supplemented by an increased RCMP and Bylaw presence.
The city said it continues to support BC Housing and non-profit agencies’ efforts to secure additional emergency shelter beds to reduce the number of people who need to sleep outside.
Those who want to donate food can do so by visiting the Central Okanagan Food Bank website at cofoodbank.com/unsheltered to learn more about what is accepted for people sheltering outdoors and hours of operation.
A number of other non-profits that provide food to people in need in the community, including those sheltering outside, also have established distribution programs for those who wish to donate.