Homeless could reside in ‘temporary’ Kelowna supportive housing project for up to 4 years: Non-profit

UPDATED 10 p.m. Thursday to include comments from City of Kelowna staff.

The non-profit charitable organization that will operate a “temporary” 55-unit supportive modular housing project in Kelowna said residents could reside in the units for up to four years.

Gaelene Askeland, executive director of the John Howard Society Central & South Okanagan, said that residents of “Heartstone” could stay for the length of BC Housing’s land lease, which is four years.

“Heartstone is intended to be permanent housing for people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness,” Askeland said on Thursday.

BC Housing leased the land at 1642 Commerce Ave. and said in a Dec.1 press release that the provincial government will allocate $3.4 million in capital funding for the supportive housing complex.

Mill Creek Commerce Park business owners have banded together to ask Kelowna City Council to defer a decision on the development permit application pending further consultation with area stakeholders.

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Area business-owners said their biggest concern is the aesthetics of the housing project.

Shirley Mehus, Commercial Property Manager for Coldwell Banker, said it doesn’t fit in with the “design guidelines” of the neighbourhood.

“We’re not opposed to a plan of putting a shelter in this lot, it is zoned for it, we aren’t opposed to that at all, we are opposed to the type of buildings that they plan to put up,” she said.

Photographs included in the development permit application submitted to the city show construction-style trailers stacked to two storeys high on temporary foundations.

Bonnie Worsdall operates a pottery studio across the street from the proposed site.

“I don’t feel that the buildings they plan to put over there are appropriate. I don’t think it fits our neighbourhood and the look of our neighbourhood,” she said.

“We’d like to know what the ramifications would be to our businesses,” said Pat McCutcheon, owner of Nail Techniques Beauty Supply.

Askeland said there is a desperate need for supportive housing in Kelowna as 1200 people are on a waitlist.

“They’re not beautiful, we all get that, it’s not lovely, it’s not what anybody would want to be housed in for long-term, but it meets a need and it gets people housed,” she said.

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BC Housing said in a statement that “given the feedback we have received on the building design, we will work on improving the appearance of the building, including landscaping, to address the concerns expressed by neighboring businesses.”

Doug Gilchrist, Divisional Director for Planning and Real Estate with the City of Kelowna, said staff are working with B.C. Housing, “to ensure the development permit application for form and character of the property meets applicable standards for this kind of temporary shelter.”

“We are in a housing crisis,” Gilchrist said. “It’s my understanding that since the Cornerstone opened on Leon Avenue it has been filled to its 80-bed capacity most nights, along with the 100 beds at the Kelowna Gospel Mission and 35 beds at Inn From the Cold which are also at capacity.”

Gilchrist said a recent survey found social issues are Kelowna residents top priority.

“The Journey Home Task Force is also underway to develop a long-term plan to address the needs of our community,” he said.

The development permit application goes before city council on Monday, Dec.11.