Neighbours opposed to a 49-unit supportive housing project planned for McCurdy Rd. are ramping up their protests against the building.
Hundreds of Rutland residents packed an information session on the project organized by BC Housing on Wednesday evening.
Many expressed disappointment over the answers they were getting from organizers, although it was clear the only answer they were looking for was one that indicated the project would not be built.
Chuck Hardy, a vocal opponent, took to the stage to attempt to turn the event into an impromptu rally.
“There’s going to be five of these things built out here. This has got to stop,” Hardy said to the crowd, often receiving applause for his statements. “Let’s take it and put it on top of city hall.”
One man, who would not give Global News his name, unfurled a banner outside the meeting advertising a website, startcomplaining.ca.
The website encourages Kelowna residents to become involved in stopping the supportive housing project being built in Rutland.
“The city, the province, is coming in here and telling us that our kids are worthless, that we are still garbage to them,” he said.
Many opponents have spoken out about the building’s close proximity to four schools in the area.
Ahead of the information session for the neighbourhood, meeting organizers answered questions from the media.
“What we’re here to do is build community,” BC Housing regional director Ann Howard said.
Residents in the building will be chosen for a variety of different needs, including medical, physical, affordability challenges, and some for addiction issues, according to Howard.
While some have referred to the project as a wet facility, where alcohol and drug consumption will be allowed, Howard said the building will ultimately be their home.
“This is housing. It is not a facility. It’s a place where people will live,” she said.
When it comes to the sizable opposition to the building, Howard said it is common around the province.
“It’s not totally unexpected. I think we’ve seen it in Kelowna before and we’ve certainly seen it in other parts of the province,” Howard said.
Based on previous experience opening supportive housing, Howard said the neighbourhood’s fears will be resolved when the building is open.
Howard wants the community to know her group is approachable and open to solutions for their concerns.
“Homelessness exists in Kelowna right now and without a solution, it’s going to continue and continue to get worse,” she said. “If we do nothing, it gets worse. If we do something, we’re moving towards resolving the issue.”
The building will be operated by the Kelowna branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which said it is committed to keeping the residents around the community safe.
“It’s not in our best interest or their best interest for it to be a chaotic environment,” CMHA Kelowna and District executive director Shelagh Turner said. “We’ve got this. We know how to support people and as a community we will work together to make sure that people inside the housing feel safe and supported and the people outside the housing feel safe and supported.”
Turner said residents will sign an agreement of terms for living in the building.
If the terms of the agreement are broken, the consequences will be having to move out, she said.
“We will definitely evict people. We want to hold individuals accountable for their behaviour,” Turner said.
The United Way Southern Interior B.C. recently estimated there may be upwards of 800 people living on the streets and in the bushes around the Central Okanagan, a drastic increase from the previous year.
A homeless survey in March of 2018 by volunteers counted 286 people who identified as homeless, with only 52 people living unsheltered at that time.