‘We are unable to operate downtown’: 2 more businesses relocating over Kelowna’s homelessness crisis

Plagued by problems stemming from Kelowna’s downtown homelessness crisis, two more businesses have decided to pack up and re-locate.

“We just feel we are unable to operate downtown as a business anymore,” said Chad Abougoush, owner of Boyds Tire and Auto Service.

Boyds is located on the corner of Water Street and Leon Avenue, a location where a tent city has been growing for months.

READ MORE: Leon Avenue tent city residents, homeless advocates rally for affordable housing in Kelowna

“I’m not the first one to pack up ship and move,” Abougoush told Global News. “It’s a clear thing that everyone is getting out.”

Next to Boyds, the Eco-Clean Dry Cleaning Centre is also moving after eight years of operating at that site.

READ MORE: Pressure mounts for City of Kelowna to act in wake of growing tent city

Business owners said customers are being harassed and intimidated, and their properties are constantly littered with garbage, needles and human feces.

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“It’s just a regular day for us here … that is not an uncommon thing for us to come work to, and that’s not right,” Abougoush said. “It’s so disgusting.”

READ MORE: Kelowna getting homeless complex

In addition to the business owners, nearby not-for-profit organizations are also voicing concerns.

April Butler is with the B.C. Schizophrenia Society and said clients are growing increasingly concerned for their safety as they try to access services.

“I’ve had family members call me saying ‘I’m in my car, can you come down and get me?’” she told Global News.

Butler said she’s worried that family members desperate for support for their loved one may not get it — ironically in some cases for a loved one who lives on Leon Avenue.

“They might not show up, they are going to say ‘I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel safe,’” Butler said.

Butler said some of the homeless people are aggressive and yell at her and other staff members when they ask for money and get denied.

She said the city needs to take immediate action to try and mitigate the situation, because the supportive housing strategy will take years to complete.

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“There is something we can do and we should be doing more,” Butler said. “Right off the top of my head, close down Leon Avenue then, close it down to traffic if you’re going to allow pedestrians to walk onto the streets. Move them to the park … it’s removing them from harm’s way, more rehab centres.”

Butler said we can’t afford to wait years until everyone is housed.

“When I saw Mayor Basran last week on the news, when he kind of, to me, threw up his arms and said there’s nothing we can do until the housing takes place….I was so angered,” Butler said.

But Kelowna’s mayor said homelessness is an issue the city works on every single day.

“We’re not throwing our arms up in the air saying there’s nothing we can do. We’re doing the best we can with the tools that we have,” he told Global News.

But Basran said the the crisis cannot be solved by city alone.

“City council and city staff are doing everything we possibly can to help fix this situation. Unfortunately it is one the City of Kelowna can’t fix on its own,” the mayor said. “It’s going to require the entire community, it’s going to require higher levels of government, it’s going to require everybody working together. So maybe those who are upset that the city isn’t doing enough, we are doing the best we can, but we won’t be able to fix it ourselves.”

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But Basran did offer a glimmer of hope about the dire situation on Leon Avenue.

“We are working on a plan with our partners to perhaps alleviate the situation on Leon. But, again it doesn’t just happen overnight,” Basran said.

“There are things coming, unfortunately in this particular instance, it might be too late for these business owners, but I hope it’s not too late for others.”

For Abougoush, the move to a new location on Clement Avenue, can’t come soon enough.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I wish it was yesterday.”