Protests outside open house to for supportive housing proposal in Kelowna

Residents in Agassiz Road area say they don’t want harm reduction facility in their neighbourhood

An artist’s rendition of the proposed supportive housing building at 2025 Agassiz Road in Kelowna. —Image: B.C. Housing

An open house for a proposed controversial supportive housing project slated for a residential area of Kelowna saw dozens of protesters gather outside the hotel where the event was held Thursday night.

The protesters, residents of the Agassiz Road area just west of the Orchard Plaza Shopping Centre, made it clear in the run-up to the open house, and again on Thursday night, they do not want to see the 52-bed facility built in their neighbourhood.

The site, at 2025 Agassiz Road, is close to the homes of hundreds of seniors who live in nearby condominium buildings.

And they say they fear the arrival of residents who may have mental health and addiction issues.

The building would be built by B.C. Housing and would be similar to a 46-bed supportive housing facility that opened for residents this week on Commerce Avenue off Enterprise Way in Kelowna. That building, like the one proposed for Agassiz Road, is also a harm-reduction facility, where residents can take drugs and drink alcohol while living there. There would, however, be round-the-clock supervision, nurses on hand and safety and security measures in place to ensure the residents and neighbours are protected, say B.C. Housing officials.

But that has not placated many of the residents, some of whom who carried signs outside the open house saying the proposed building was being planned for the “wrong place” and that seniors in the area were “living in fear” because of it.

Security guards were on hand inside the Ramada Hotel where the open house was held to make sure there was no trouble.

RELATED: New supportive housing in Kelowna ready for residents

Officials with B.C. Housing, the John Howard Society—which would operate and manage the building—and representatives of the group helping to implement the city’s Journey Home strategy to address homelessness in Kelowna, were all on hand to explain details about the building—how it would be run, the security and safety features and the need for more supportive housing in the community.

The building is part of the 500 additional supportive housing units the Journey Home strategy says are needed in Kelowna to meet the needs of those currently living on the street.

Like the Hearthstone building on Commerce Avenue, the Agassiz Road building would provide homes for people who are currently homeless, including, but mot limited to, those suffering from mental health and addiction issues.

Using a “housing-first” approach, the aim is to get people who need to be housed into housing and in order to help them reach out for support services for other issues they may be dealing with such as mental health and addiction, social services and seeking employment.

Angie Lohr, president of Kelowna’s H.O.P.E. Outreach was at the open house and said more supportive housing, as well as support services, are badly needed in the city.

“The only way we are going to solve this problem is by getting people into their own homes first,” she said.

Lohr, who has experienced homelessness, addiction and life on the street herself, said having a roof over their head gives people who may otherwise resist seeking the help they need, the chance to get it.

She said the open house was well attended, very informative and felt the officials on hand were able to provide some good information.

“There were a lot of questions, a lot of answers and I really think there was some educating going on,” she said.

Still, she conceded there were vocal opponents on hand too, who made it clear they did not want the facility in their neighbourhood.

RELATED: Kelowna’s strategy to address homelessness making headway says city

Earlier this week, following the swearing-in of the new Kelowna city council, Mayor Colin Basran warned his councillors to be prepared to make, as he put it, some “tough” decisions about the placement of supportive housing such as the Agassiz Road building as the Journey Home strategy rolled out.

In addition to Hearthstone and the redevelopment of the former North Pointe Motel on Highway 97 as another supportive housing facility, a further 100 units of supportive housing are slated for the city next year.

If approved, the Agassiz Road building would make up just over half of those units.

The proposal will go to Kelowna council in early 2019 and if approved could be built by next fall.

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