Residents living near Knox Mountain gathered on Tuesday night to express their opposition to a new camp for people experiencing homelessness that was approved by the city earlier in the day.
Residents said they are worried the camp, which is one of two locations approved by the city, will bring drugs and crime into their neighbourhood.
Others said they were frustrated they were only informed about the camp at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“I would’ve liked to have a bit of warning to install security lights or security cameras,” said resident Tess Rose. “The fact that we were given no heads up really disappoints me. I’m really disappointed in city council and whoever made the decision.”
She said her neighbourhood is traditionally a safe area with fairly low levels of crime.
“We have had a bit of an uptick in recent years,” said Rose. “I know I’ve had a couple of run ins with people in the last little bit and I think the crime rate is just going to probably increase. I walk my dog around the neighbourhood at night, and I don’t think I’m going to be comfortable doing that.”
Other residents echoed her concerns.
“It feels like we’re not as safe as we were,” said Isla Matson, a middle schooler.
Jodi Huber said her first concern was her daughter’s safety.
“She walks back and forth from the school bus at 7:45 in the morning and she returns at about 3:15 p.m. Now I’m trying to figure out how I can adapt my life to pick her up because I certainly don’t feel safe having her walk by herself once this actually gets filled up with tents,” said Huber.
Francois Lacelle said while he’s concerned about the situation like everyone else, he’s not sure what exactly there is to protest.
“If we protest about people moving here and they move to another neighbourhood, then the next neighbourhood will do the same thing. It just doesn’t seem like a solution to me,” he said.
“I’m definitely a little bit concerned as a resident and I hope we find a solution for these people. At the same time, we have to be mindful of the ‘not in my backyard’ attitude. I hope a solution comes up soon.”
Earlier in the day, the City of Kelowna designated two sites for temporary overnight sheltering: one at the base of Knox Mountain Park and another one near the Kelowna Curling Club.
Both areas are expected to house residents who have been living rough on Leon Avenue, which was deemed “too hazardous” by the city’s fire department.
“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.”
According to the city, those experiencing homelessness will be able to set up their shelters between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. and there will be washrooms, garbage disposal, sharps disposal, bottled water and daytime storage. Two security personnel will also monitor the sites between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. and there will be an increased presence of both bylaw officers and RCMP officers.
B.C. law requires that in times of insufficient shelter and housing space for those experiencing homelessness, municipalities may not prohibit all of 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.
In a press release, the city 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 balanced the rights of people sheltering outside with people impacted in neighbouring areas and the broader community.
Residents who want more information about the overnight shelters can visit kelowna.ca/homelessness or call 250-862-0440.