Kelowna mayor: Council facing ‘very tough’ social housing decision

Kelowna city council is facing a tough decision come the new year.

“This is one of the most stressful projects that I have had to deal with in my seven years,” city councillor Mohini Singh told Global News.

Singh is referring to a supportive housing project for the homeless. The building is slated to be built on a vacant lot on Agassiz Road behind Orchard Plaza.

It’s controversial because it’s smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood and many residents are vehemently opposed to the plans.

“It’s very, very hard. If there is anything that will keep me up or has kept me up, it’s this project,” Singh said. “I have met with the people who live in that area. I went down personally to see them in their homes and these are people, these are Canadians who have worked their entire life to be able to to reach this point in life where they could retire with some peace of mind.”

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And while she understands the residents and their concerns, she also strongly believes supportive housing for the homeless is badly needed.

It’s left her feeling torn.

“There’s one part where I see the people who have worked their whole life to reach that point where they are now,” Singh said. “Then there’s the other side, where people have hit tough times and need a place to go, need a place to get back on their feet. So when you put those two together, it’s very, very, very hard to make a decision.”

Earlier this fall, a similar supportive housing project was completed, but this one is situated in a commercial area off of Enterprise Way.

READ MORE: Kelowna’s newest supportive housing complex about to welcome homeless tenants

It’s all part of the city’s Journey Home Strategy to tackle Kelowna’s homelessness crisis.

But the latest proposal is even more controversial because of the residential neighborhood component.

“This could likely be the toughest decision that this council has to make in the next four years,” Kelowna’s mayor said.

Colin Basran said tough decisions like this one can take a personal toll.

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“You actually end up losing friends over it and that is legitimate. That actually happens as a result of being in the positions that we are and that is never fun,” he said.

First-term councillor Loyal Wooldridge also admitted feeling stress as the big decision approaches.

“Of course, of course it does, we are human as well,” he said. “It’s keeping me awake because both sides have relevant positions that we have to consider,” he said. “And with every public hearing, we have to go in with an open mind, so the challenge is we have so much time in between now and then that there’s just a lot of thinking that we have to do.”

Wooldridge said while the Agassiz Road vote will be tough, there will be more of these kinds of applications in the future as the city works to implement the Journey Home strategy.

“My business is on the street on St. Paul that has supportive housing and also has outreach on it. So I live this every single day and I see it first hand,” Wooldridge said. “So that is really key to put yourself in the shoes of everyone involved, not just those opposed, but also those people we are trying to help, and then really try to find a middle ground to make the best decision for Kelowna.”

The Agassiz Road proposal will be front and centre on Jan. 17 at a public hearing that’s expected to be long and highly emotional.

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“We will struggle to get through the evening because we know we are going to hear a lot of passion, in some cases a lot of anger,” Basran said. “My advice to my council colleagues would be, make a decision based on what you believe for the community as a whole.”

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