It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but Mayor Colin Basran said something needed to be done.
He said there were two major reasons the city decided on Tuesday morning to relocate Leon Avenue’s tent city residents: safety and legal obligation.
“Our fire regulations state that the tents needed to be a metre apart, and we know that people who were sleeping in those tents were using things like candles and propane heaters and other things to stay warm and with the numbers increasing, we were basically running out of real estate,” said Basran.
“What we didn’t want to have happen is something catastrophic where we have a fire and significant loss of life.”
On Tuesday, the city unilaterally announced it had selected two sites — one near Knox Mountain Park and another adjacent to the Kelowna Curling Club — for people to set up temporary overnight shelter between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Basran said the city decided to select those sites because indoor shelters are at capacity and the city has a legal obligation to use public areas to offer temporary sheltering.
He emphasized with residents near Knox Mountain, who held a spontaneous protest on Tuesday against the city’s decision, however he said regardless of which sites the city selected people would have been upset.
“I can tell you that this was not a decision that council took lightly. In fact, it’s quite agonizing for council and city staff and everybody involved,” said Basran.
“At the end of the day, there are a number of reasons why the two parks were selected and it doesn’t matter where we would’ve designated public space – those living in proximity to wherever space we chose would be upset.
“This is just basically the best of a really bad situation and it’s the best option before us in this particular moment in time.”
Basran said city staff will continue to work with B.C. Housing and other community partners to find longer term housing, as well as setting up support to connect people with the help they need for mental health and addiction issues.
“It’s evolving every day, but we’re pursuing options. The hard part about this is there’s not an easy availability of space nor is there an availability of social service agencies able to expand their capacity to be able to operate such an endeavour.”
According to the city, the new camps will include washrooms, garbage disposal, sharps disposal, bottled water and daytime storage.
Two security personnel will also monitor the sites between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. and there will be an increased presence of both bylaw officers and RCMP officers.
B.C. law requires that in times of insufficient shelter and housing space for those experiencing homelessness, municipalities may not prohibit all of its parks and public spaces from being used for temporary overnight shelter.