Downtown Kelowna Association wants to see decentralization of homelessness services

Homeless issue on Leon Avenue remains ongoing concern

The organization that represents downtown Kelowna businesses wants to see homelessness services that are currently centralized on Leon Avenue dispersed across a larger area, its members told council Monday as they successfully asked for a budget increase.

The Downtown Kelowna Association, which operates on behalf of the membership within the Downtown Kelowna Business Improvement Area, will focus on five strategic areas in the next five years— street services, business development, advocacy, marketing and raising awareness of DKA membership services value.

“Street services” is the category that the DKA addresses the homelessness issue in the city’s downtown core. Through it, DKA employees work in collaboration with RCMP, Interior Health, city hall and other service agencies such as the Gospel Mission, Inn From The Cold and Metro Community Services.

Layla Miller, operations manager for the DKA, told council Monday there is currently a two-person team that helps clean sidewalks and alleys around downtown businesses, and they hope to add a third person in 2019 and a fourth in 2020.

Miller said that service is valued by DKA members because it enhances the downtown shopping experience, even though “they tend to spend a lot of their time in one particular area.”

That area is along Leon Avenue where many services such as Cornerstone and the Gospel Mission are located.

Miller said while no membership survey has been done on this issue of late, from general feedback of business operators downtown she acknowledges the DKA administration has a pretty good idea where people stand.

“To focus as much as we can to attempt to decentralize services for the homeless from being concentrated in the Leon areas would be in line with what the DKA wants and what our business memberships wants,” said DKA president Yardeen Gershon, who joined Miller in the budget presentation to council.

“We all recognize the needs for services to be provided but for them all to be in one area is counter-productive to the safety and the cleanliness of the downtown core.”

Related: Kelowna Chamber of Commerce feels misled about downtown homeless shelter

Coun. Brad Sieben asked Gershon about how business owners felt about the homelessness issue, and Gershon said concerns have increased as the visibility of homelessness has grown.

“Certainly that visibility is a concern. You can’t deny that,” he said.

Related: Key homeless service providers call for action

Kelowna council signed off on a 29.47 per cent increase in the five year operating budget for the Downtown Kelowna Association that will go into effect next year.

The budget will increase to $999,198 in 2019, and expand to $1,148,954 by 2023. The budget increase during the previous five years was higher, at 30.69 per cent.

The DKA boundaries cover a 48-block radius bordered by Harvey, Clement, Abbott and Richter. The third area within B.C. to create a BIA, the DKA membership currently has 863 business owners and 375 property owners.

It was started as a grassroots organzation in the 1980s, and became officially incorporated as a non-profit BIA representative in 1989, operated by funding through an improvement levy collected by the municipality from commercial properties in the area.

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