The Advocacy Against Displacement’s Listen Chen stands in front of a group of people campaigning for improved rights and treatment towards people living homeless on Leon Avenue in Kelowna. (Mackenzie Britton - Capital News)

‘Homes not shelters’: Those living on Kelowna streets rally for rights

Residents who live on the streets along Leon Avenue came together to demand change

Residents experiencing homelessness along Leon Avenue are fed up with their poor living conditions and are demanding the city take action.

On Tuesday, residents held a media gathering with the Alliance Against Displacement (AAD), to draw attention to their situation and set out a list of four demands, including more housing options, no unlawful searches of their tents, no more “stealing” by police and electrical options for heating their tents.

Listen Chen, a spokesperson for the organization, said that among the four demands, the biggest grievance is the ongoing violations of the residents’ Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Treating poor and homeless people as if they don’t have rights, as if they’re not entitled to having personal possessions and privacy, that sends a message to the public that these people are not fully human,” said Chen.

READ MORE: Kelowna homeless to demand improvements to their living conditions

Chen said her organization spent last weekend collecting signatures and speaking to residents living on Leon Avenue before narrowing down their list of demands.

“It’s cold out here,” said Deanna Cowens, a woman who has experienced homelessness for several years.

“We need places for all, that have heat. We don’t want to live by other peoples’ rules, we want to do what we want to do and there’s nothing out here for us that we can afford. There are no options.”

Cowens said people don’t want to live in shelters because of the rules that limit their guests, their belongings and their livelihoods.

She said they are also tired of the abuse from law enforcement and city bylaw officers who allegedly throw out or steal their belongings.

While the current social housing conditions in Kelowna were noted as good options for some, the overwhelming consensus from the Leon Avenue residents is that there aren’t enough options.

The Central Okanagan Journey Home Society is one of the many city partners that work to address the ongoing issues of chronic and episodic homelessness in Kelowna.

Journey Home board chair Kyleen Myrah said that the AAD’s new involvement could complicate that work.

“It’s a frustrating distraction,” said Myrah in response to AAD’s Tuesday press conference.

“We recognize that the situation on Leon Avenue is not acceptable or sustainable. It is more important than ever to stay the course and focus our efforts, continuing to work collaboratively towards the development of community-based solutions to our issues.”

READ MORE: Bike parts, lawnmowers dumped at West Kelowna Salvation Army thrift store

Brendan Jeffrey who’s been on and off the streets for the last six years with his wife Caitlyn said that though they both work, they may not be able to afford a place indoors when winter hits its peak.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re warm and safe,” said Jeffrey.

“I want to see housing for everybody and keep it affordable. I’d like to see all of us off the street and have affordable housing so we could actually get our own space, we can actually stay out of the cold.”

The demands from the AAD and Leon Avenue residents have yet to be addressed by Kelowna city council.

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