People experiencing homelessness in Kelowna were thrust into the spotlight of Canadian politics after the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Pierre Poilievre tweeted a video of a designated city-maintained encampment.
In Kelowna, all people experiencing un-sheltered homelessness are required to spend their nights at an encampment located along a popular bike path. Each morning, residents are expected to pack up their belongings and vacate the site, but as the population of people living without a home in Kelowna grows, it has been increasingly difficult for bylaw officers to enforce the requirement to decamp each day.
Poilievre captions the tweet,” These images are not from a faraway third-world country. This is Kelowna. After eight years of Trudeau and the NDP.”
Capital News has reached out to Poilievre for comment over Twitter and by email, but has not yet heard back.
Kelowna’s Gospel Mission estimates that there are approximately 1,000 unhoused people in the Central Okanagan.
@PierrePoilievre I am a reporter in Kelowna. @TracyGrayKLC has been our conservative MP since 2019. How would you better engage our representatives take action and address homelessness in Kelowna? https://t.co/61P1lFpQKo— Jacqueline Gelineau (@Rangers_mom) May 30, 2023
Heather Friesen, an advocate for vulnerable people in Kelowna, spends most days helping those experiencing homelessness in the city.
She said that while homelessness has grown in Kelowna, it has also surged across the country, under Conservative, NDP and Liberal provincial leadership.
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Friesen.
Kelowna has been under the leadership of Conservative Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country Tracy Gray, since 2019.
During this time, the population of people experiencing homelessness within the city has grown. Gray said that she hears about the issues facing Kelowna including inflation, mental illness and addiction every day. She said that in Lake Country, food bank usage is up by 36 per cent in the last year.
“We see more homeless encampments which create safety issues for the greater community with potential fires and crime and are unsafe for those living there where criminals prey on the most vulnerable.”
While Gray didn’t comment on what she is doing to locally to address homelessness, she did outline some specifics on what the federal Conservatives would do if elected, which included ending inflationary spending, getting interest rates “under control” and halting all tax increases.
From across Okanagan Lake, Dan Albas, the Conservative Member of Parliament for the Central Okanagan, Similkameen and Nicola, also weighed in on the situation. While Kelowna’s encampment area is not a part of his riding, Albas is working to address the situation of homelessness in his riding.
He said that the toxic drug crisis and high rent are two of the primary drivers behind the increase in people experiencing homelessness in the Okanagan.
Albas said that many people are living paycheck to paycheck and are unable to afford the rising cost of living.
Kelowna is ranked as the fifth most expensive rental market in Canada with the rental market website Zumper putting a one-bedroom in the city at an average of $1,980 a month.
“Rents have doubled and there are fewer options for (substance use and mental health) treatment available,” said Albas.
He hopes to improve access to treatment centres with a conservative government, rather than expand safe supply, explaining that without social support, it is difficult for people to exit the cycle of addiction.
Capital News reached out to the City of Kelowna for comment and was told Mayor Tom Dyas would be best to speak to the issue, however, is currently at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Toronto.
While Dyas did not directly respond to an interview request, he tweeted about the issue of homelessness, but did not directly reference Poilievre’s comments about Kelowna.
“I know homelessness is top of mind for many people,’” said Dyas in the May 31, tweet.
“I‘ve been at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Ontario the last several days to learn about what we can do as a community to address this. The number of individuals living on our streets is unacceptable. Learning from other communities - their successes and mistakes - is one of the best ways we can address our issues here at home.”
“I look forward to bringing back solutions to Kelowna.”
I know homelessness is top of mind for many people.— Mayor Tom Dyas (@MayorTomDyas) May 31, 2023
I‘ve been at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Ontario the last several days to learn about what we can do as a community to address this. The number of individuals living on our streets is unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/9Jrtx7xr83