Kelowna’s Leon Avenue tent city is on the move after living conditions were deemed “too hazardous” following inspections by the Kelowna Fire Department.
The city said it has selected two parks for people experiencing homelessness to set up temporary overnight shelter between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.
A section at the base of Knox Mountain Park near Poplar Point Road (565 Poplar Point Road) and a park off Recreation Avenue (551 Recreation Avenue) will be established for people to sleep safely at night and will include washrooms, garbage disposal, sharps disposal, bottled water and daytime storage.
“Our primary concern with the current use of tents for overnight sheltering on Leon is safety-related,” said Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting. “Specifically, the close grouping of the tents due to the rapid and surprising growth of people sheltering outside and highly combustible materials, and the observed use of unsafe heaters creating fire or carbon monoxide risk to the residents.”
Jock Tyre, general manager of the Kelowna Curling Club, which is located on the same property as the Recreation Avenue site, said his club’s members need to make the best of a bad situation. He said he was only given the heads up about the situation late Monday night.
“We have to straight-up be good citizens,” said Tyre.
“If you’ve got new neighbours, you don’t run over and poke them with a stick. You try it. We see if we can get along. We want to be good neighbours. We want to see what we can do make this the best of a bad situation.”
Tyre said Recreation Avenue is a better option than the encampments that are currently on Leon Avenue.
“It’s a black eye for the city having this as a problem,” he said. “I’d rather have them here on a baseball diamond in an industrial area than somebody losing their livelihood because a business is shutting down.”
In less than 24-hours since he learned about the new camps, Tyre said the city has been very responsive and open to working with him to address his organization’s concerns.
“My concern is security of my membership and my building,” he said.
“The city is addressing that as best as they can with us…and I’m hoping that because we’re in an industrial area it’ll have less impact than if it was put in somebody’s neighbourhood.”
There will be strict rules for those who will be permitted to set up shelter, starting with set up at 7 p.m. and requiring them to remove their shelters by 9 a.m. the next morning, unlike on Leon Avenue where sheltering was allowed 24/7. To make the transition easier, people were allowed to set-up tents after 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
B.C. law requires that in times of insufficient shelter and housing space for those experiencing homelessness, municipalities may not prohibit all its parks and public spaces from being used for temporary overnight shelter. Municipalities can, however, designate which parks are used as such.
“Overnight sheltering in public spaces is not the long-term solution,” said community safety director Darren Caul. “Through the Journey Home Strategy, the city will continue to advocate for the provincial government and community groups to provide additional supportive and scattered housing to eliminate the need for people to shelter outdoors.”
“The properties were selected based on a number of factors that considered the current use, amenities and programming at the site, the accessibility of the site not only for the people sheltering there, but also for emergency services, and the distance to services in the core of the city,” said Caul.
A City of Kelowna news release stated it recognized the response to the rapid growth of those requiring outdoor shelter is not ideal for anyone. “However, it was determined the sites best balanced the rights of the people sheltering outside with people impacted in neighbouring areas and the broader community.”
Two security personnel will monitor the sites daily between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. and there will be an increased presence of both bylaw officers and RCMP officers.
Residents wanting more information about the overnight shelters can visit kelowna.ca/homelessness or call 250-862-0440.