Sitting down to take a stand against sleeping ban

Kelowna city council’s decision to ban sitting or sleeping on public sidewalks will be protested this afternoon.

Kelowna city council’s decision to ban sitting or sleeping on public sidewalks will be protested this afternoon.

A group calling itself Homelessness in Kelowna has set up a Facebook page, Sit down to take a STAND for people without homes, is upset council gave the first three of four readings to a bylaw that would extend the existing 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ban to 24 hours per day.

“The current bylaw seems to suggest that homelessness inconveniences people trying to access the downtown restaurant district, pays part of the message posted on the Facebook page.

“Council should have rejected the message endorsed by this bylaw: that some Kelownians don’t matter as much as others.”

It goes on to say many people who sit or sleep on Kelowna sidewalks do so because they do not have anywhere else to go.

“Shelters are full and housing is not accessible for many. Even parks are closed at night. Most people who might be fined would not have a means to pay the ticket.

And it uses the same line as a letter, sent to Kelowna’s mayor and council late last week and signed by 48 people including two former city councillors and several UBC Okanagan professors and students: “The city’s homeless require mercy and assistance, support programs and opportunities—not a legal whipping.”

That letter also called for the rescinding of the existing  8 a.m to 9 p.m. ban.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has defended the extension, saying it is not meant to target the homeless and bylaw officers won’t be out round the clock looking for people to ticket. He has said it is just one of several measures the city is taking to address homelessness.

Basran has said the extension is in response to complaints from the public and downtown business owners about people sleeping on sidewalks and blocking public access.

The protest, which calls for protestors to sit on the sidewalk outside city hall between 4:40 p.m. and 6 p.m. hopes to head off council’s fourth and final reading of the bylaw and its adoption this month.

Depending on how long the meeting goes, the protest should coincide with the mayor and councillors leaving city hall following this afternoon’s regular council meeting. That meeting is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.

This morning, council will be updated by city staff on what it calls a “homeless-serving systems strategy” to address the issue of homelessness here.

“The current focus on developing a comprehensive and well-integrated national plan is encouraging,” reads the staff report to be presented to council. “However, in the absence of a national strategy, plans to address homelessness and housing insecurity have become a common feature of municipal policy-makers and community-based planning. These plans have contributed to a body of best practices research of which Kelowna can draw from.”

Staff want to work with community partners to develop what it says will be a “made-in-Kelowna” plan that is an integrated, client-centred, outcome-focused system.

If council endorces the plan for the long-term strategy, staff will ask for $200,000 in the upcoming 2017 budget to advance the initiative and leverage additional funding and grant opportunities.

The staff presentation will take place at council’s morning session at city hall today.