Activists in Kelowna’s Rutland neighbourhood handed off a petition with more than 2,800 pages of signatures against a planned McCurdy Road supportive housing project on Sunday.
Organizer Audra Boudreau said when she gave the petition with signatures from more than 13,000 Kelowna residents to local Liberal MLA Norm Letnick to take to the B.C. Legislature it felt like a weight was lifted off of her.
Now the Kelowna woman hopes the residents’ message to the provincial government spurs Victoria to change course and use the building currently under construction at 130 McCurdy Rd. to house other vulnerable populations, such as low-income seniors or students.
“It’s a big number (of signatures) and we hope that they listen because there are other vulnerable populations that need help that won’t place the children and the seniors that are in that immediate vicinity at risk,” said Boudreau.
Currently, construction is underway on a 49-unit supportive housing project on the site, which is expected to open in the spring of 2021 under the management of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
According to B.C. Housing, the facility is expected to be staffed 24/7 and will provide housing for “people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Kelowna, with priority to those who are active in their recovery and receiving support from community-based agencies; and youth 19-24.”
However, the project has been highly controversial. Boudreau is concerned that residents will be living with drug addictions and will pose a risk to children and seniors in the area.
“They need to fund their habits, welfare doesn’t pay for their habit, they need to fund it and they fund it off of anybody in the neighbourhood,” she said.
Global Okanagan reached out to B.C.’s Housing Ministry for comment on Sunday but has yet to receive a response.
“A common misconception around supportive housing is that all of the residents have addictions issues and are engaged in criminal activity,” said the statement on the B.C. Housing website.
“It is unfortunate that those experiencing homelessness in Kelowna are so often painted with the same brush when in reality there are many reasons why someone might have become homeless or need support in maintaining a home.”
Responding to a question about why the province isn’t building a drug rehab facility on the site instead, the project proponents wrote that supportive housing “follows an evidence-based… housing first model, which aims to end chronic homelessness by first providing stable housing, and then working with the residents to promote recovery and well being.”
Letnick plans to present the petition in the Legislature and hopes it sends a message to the governing party and Housing Minister that there are a significant number of constituents who want officials to reexamine the project.
– with files from Jules Knox and Doris Maria Bregolisse