Petition in Kelowna requesting ‘wet’ support facility change to a ‘dry’ building

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Petition in Kelowna requesting ‘wet’ support facility change to a ‘dry’ building
Residents in a Kelowna neighbourhood say they’re fed up with criminal activity in the area and are blaming a supportive housing complex that opened four years ago. The residents have now started a petition and are hoping for immediate action.  – Jul 6, 2024

A supportive housing unit that sparked controversy when it opened four years ago in a Kelowna neighbourhood is still proving to be contentious.

Located behind Orchard Plaza Shopping Centre, Stephen Village has 57 beds for people who are at risk or experiencing homelessness.

However, people in the neighbourhood say criminal activity has risen since the building’s opening in 2020, and that they feel unsafe.

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So much so that a petition has been started, requesting that Stephen Village transition from a ‘wet’ facility to a ‘dry’ one.

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A wet facility is where occupants can use alcohol or drugs in their residences, unlike a dry facility.

“A lot of fighting, drug dealers coming to our neighbourhood,” said concerned resident Lee Macdonald. “We get woken up almost every single night.”

Area resident Susan Greenwood added, “Some of them get very agitated or angry, and it’s a bit scary for old people.”

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Another resident, Tyler Zeeman, told Global News that he’s witnessed drug deals, knife fights and people getting chased.

Some residents say they’re fed up with feeling unheard and have started taking videos of criminal activities in the area.

One video sent to Global News showed a stabbing that happened two weeks ago during daylight hours.

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The residents say they’ve contacted the building’s operator, the John Howard Society, but nothing is being done.

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“Many times we’ve called and asked for management,” said Zeeman. “And they either won’t take our call or half the time hang up on us.”

Messages to John Howard went unanswered.

The petition asks that the facility be converted from a wet to a dry one, where substance use would be prohibited.

As of Saturday morning, the petition, which is viewable online, had garnered just over 700 signatures.

However, BC Housing, which funds the facility, says a change in operations at Stephen Village is not being considered.

In an email, BC Housing says Stephen Village operates under the widely recognized housing-first approach — an evidence-based housing model that claims people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are first housed.

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Residents say they aren’t against the support the building offers. They are just against the criminal activity that comes with wet facilities.

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“We believe that offering assisted housing to individuals who are making a commitment to ongoing recovery as part of their residency will have a positive impact on the safety of our community,” reads part of the petition.

Lee said while there is support for wet facilities, “Imagine what it would be like to have one built across the street from their house. It kind of changes. So, I just think if you support something that you only support if it’s not in your neighbourhood, maybe you don’t support it.”

Global News also contacted the City of Kelowna about Stephen Village.

“The city, BC Housing and the John Howard Society, the operator of Stephen Village, are aware of the video and concerns brought forward by area residents,” the city said in an email.

“Bylaw and RCMP will work together on enhanced and targeted enforcement efforts for the area, in addition to the route patrols in the neighbourhood.”

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