Waters: Kelowna businessman hedges his bets over downtown homeless

Insists on 90-day escape clause in lease for his downtown store

Kelowna’s growing homelessness problem has prompted a local businessman to have an escape clause written into the lease for his downtown store.

Andre Blanleil, owner of the Andre’s Electronics chain, said he insisted a 90-day cancellation clause be included in the two-year lease for his Bernard Avenue outlet because he’s concerned about the safety of his staff, customers and the security of his store.

Blanleil said he has seen a drop in business at the store in the last year as the homelessness problem downtown has grown.

On Wednesday, the former Kelowna city councillor called the clause unusual but said its inclusion reflected his concern about what is happening downtown.

Blanleil’s announcement came a day after the city relocated a growing number of homeless people, who were living in tents on from the sidewalk of Leon Avenue near the city’s Gospel Mission, to one of two city North End parks.

It also came a week after two other downtown businesses said they were moving out of the area because of increased crime, safety concerns and the growing number of “street people.”

The final straw for the city appears to have been a close call early Monday for the fire department, which quickly extinguished a small blaze at the tent city on Leon Avenue, a fire that could have grown quickly and spread to other tents and become a larger and tragic event.

The situation on Leon had become untenable for the city, area merchants, residents and, most of all, for the people living on the street.

But no one should look at the relocation as the solution to the issue of people living on the street in Kelowna. Moving the homeless out of sight should not mean putting the issue out of mind.

It was an emergency move, a bid to help keep people safe — or at least safer than they would have been if they had stayed on Leon.

Moving tents off one highly visible downtown street and placing them in less visible park in the industrial North End is a band-aid solution at best.

As Blanleil correctly stated, the situation in Kelowna needs more than just city action. The province needs to get involved and not just from a housing perspective — something it has successfully, albeit controversially, already done here.

The services needed to address not only the issues often associated with homelessness, such as addiction and mental health.

And that is not something the city can do on its own. It requires the power of the province and the federal government as these are health care issues.

It remains to be seen if other businesses will follow the two that say they are pulling out, or even Blanleil’s escape hatch lease clause.

But no matter what, the city made the right move in trying to address the issue with safety of those on the street in mind.

Alistair Waters is a regional editor with Black Press in Kelowna.

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