June 25, 2019 8:24 pm
Updated: June 25, 2019 9:04 pm

Rutland residents gather to protest supportive housing project in neighbourhood

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Frustrations about crime are bubbling over in Rutland.

On Tuesday, the mayor of Kelowna was supposed to walk the area to see what’s going on.

But as word got out, Colin Basran’s walkabout was cancelled amidst concerns tensions might run too high.

READ MORE: Controversy continues over proposed supportive housing complex in Kelowna

The frustrations have been triggered by last week’s announcement of another wet supportive housing facility in Rutland. Residents and businesses believe the facilities are contributing to crime in the neighbourhood.

Dozens of people turned up, ranging from residents to business owners.

WATCH BELOW: Extended interview: Mayor Basran answers questions about supportive housing in Rutland

“It wasn’t too bad until about four years ago,” said Perry Harris, who runs an auto repair business on Enterprise Way. “And it’s increased exponentially, and to the point where there are continually people coming through, checking cars almost every night.

“I record it all on video and, unfortunately, there’s not much it seems the police can do about it. So whatever approach they’re using to take care of the homeless, the thievery, the addiction, I don’t think is entirely correct.”

WATCH BELOW (Aired June 16, 2019): Kelowna neighbours speak out against supportive housing project

Harris said “I’ve found people sleeping in my cars,” adding “we find needles in every vehicle, crack pipes. Everywhere we look, there’s evidence of drug use in the compound and in and around our businesses.”

Harris’ point of view was echoed by others.

“What’s not happening?” said Curtis Studer. “The stuff that’s being destroyed around here is ridiculous. The robberies, the breaking in. Cars being broken into. Sleeping in motorhomes.

“They’re just coming in and destroying it. We fix it, they do it again.”

WATCH BELOW (Aired June 11, 2019): Protesters voice concern over proposed supportive housing complex in Grand Forks

Studer added crime in the area has gotten worse recently.

“Summertime is always the worst, but in the last two to four years, it’s definitely gotten worse,” he said.

Basran said he was originally approached by some residents two weeks ago to walk the area and see their concerns.

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“I was really looking forward to have constructive conversation with them about ways that the city could be involved in helping mitigate some of the things that they’re seeing,” said Basran.

“But in the time since that invitation came, I guess it’s become known in the community that I was going to be arriving there. And so it’s my understanding that people were planning to show up to protest.”

The mayor continued that “it was the decision of myself and the people who invited me that it probably wouldn’t be best if I came, because it really wouldn’t lend itself to having a constructive conversation and working together collaboratively to find some solutions.

“So what we agreed to do is to meet in my office, where three or four of the neighbourhood residents and I can meet and discuss their concerns and figure out ways that we can move forward together.”

WATCH BELOW (Aired Jan. 18, 2019): Government announces another supportive housing project for Kelowna

Lake Country Kelowna MLA Norm Letnick did attend, and says all levels of government needs to do a better job of engaging residents at a ground level. He also believes the issues in the area need to be addressed.

“All I’m saying is take a pause,” said Letnick. “Work with the local people. These are good meaning people, these are good meaning people, they only want what everybody else wants.”

WATCH BELOW (Aired Jan. 9, 2019): Is a homeless supportive housing complex in Kelowna to blame for increased problems at a nearby hotel?

As for those who planned the walkabout, they want residents to have a voice at the table, along with checks and balances in place.

The mayor was also asked why the building was originally proposed as a dry facility, and now it’s a wet facility.

“That decision was made by BC Housing and really wasn’t a decision made by city council,” said Basran. “City council really doesn’t control who lives in buildings.

“I don’t believe that we should actually make decisions on who can live in a building and who can’t. I don’t believe in a segregated society, and so if we start deciding who should live where, I think that’s something we don’t want to get into.”

WATCH BELOW (Aired Nov. 9, 2018): Kelowna residents protest housing project for homeless

Basran continued that “the decision was made by BC Housing, not city council. I’d guess you’d have to ask BC Housing why they chose not to fund the original proposal, and instead are moving forward with this one instead.”

Basran was asked if he understands the concerns citizens have with supportive housing projects located near them.

“I understand the concerns. But when you look at where other projects are located, that they are dispersed throughout the community,” he said.

“We hope to get more. And our instructions to BC Housing are to make sure that they are spread around the community. So I certainly appreciate and understand the concerns of Rutland residents, but this is not something that we are simply dumping on them.

“This is something that we bear as a community together, and we’ll make sure that we spread these future projects out throughout the rest of our community.”

READ MORE: Supportive housing project in South Okanagan to soon open its doors

Basran said supportive housing projects “have been integrated in parts of our community quite well. We have had challenges with this latest one, but we’re working with BC Housing and stakeholders in the neighbourhood to mitigate those concerns.

“And I can tell you that city council wants these projects to fit into neighbourhoods seamlessly. We are working and doing the things we need to make sure that happens, including looking after community safety, community cleanliness and addressing concerns that residents have.

“But I think when you look around, and you see other projects of this type in our community, they haven’t been an issue. In the latest one, yes, it hasn’t gone well. Are there concerns? Yes, there are.

“But we’re working to mitigate those concerns, so that when other projects move forward – like the one on Agassiz Road, like the one on McCurdy Road, like the one on McIntosh — that they’ll be integrated seamlessly and we’ll have plans in place to deal with the issues when they arise.”

READ MORE: Province to move ahead with Maple Ridge supportive housing without city’s support

An information session for the supportive housing development at McCurdy and Rutland Roads is being held Wednesday, but the project is expected to move forward and be up and running by spring 2021.

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