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City selects 2 north-end Kelowna locations as designated overnight homeless areas

In a surprise move Tuesday morning, the city of Kelowna announced it was moving its homeless residents who were camping on Leon Avenue to the North End. Darrian Matassa-Fung reports.

Kelowna will be setting up two designated areas for temporary overnight shelters in an effort to address safety concerns, the city announced on Tuesday morning.

Recently, a growing tent city has sprouted up along the 200 block of Leon Avenue, causing friction between local business owners and those experiencing homelessness and prompting some businesses to leave the area.

Now, with subzero temperatures set to become the daily norm, the city says inspections by the Kelowna Fire Department have found outdoor living conditions on Leon Avenue too hazardous.

Extended interview with Kelowna mayor about moving Leon Avenue’s tent city
Extended interview with Kelowna mayor about moving Leon Avenue’s tent city

As a result, the city says it has created “other options for people who need overnight outdoor shelter in the absence of adequate indoor shelter spaces.”

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

In a press release, Kelowna fire Chief Travis Whiting said: “Our primary concern with the current use of tents for overnight sheltering on Leon is safety-related.

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“Specifically, the close grouping of the tents due to the rapid and surprising growth of people sheltering outside and highly combustible materials and the observed use of unsafe heaters creating fire or carbon monoxide risk to the residents.”

For those living along the 200 block of Leon Avenue, the city says it has established two areas where people can safely set up temporary overnight shelters.

One area will be at the base of Knox Mountain Park near Poplar Point Road. The other area will be at a park on Recreation Avenue.

The city says people will be permitted to set up shelters at 7 p.m. but will be required to remove their shelter by 9 a.m. the next day. This is unlike Leon Avenue, where sheltering was allowed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the city.

The transition will start on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 1 p.m.

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

In its press release, the city says provincial law requires that if there is insufficient housing or shelter space for people experiencing homelessness, a city may not prohibit all of its parks and public spaces from being used for temporary overnight shelters.

“The city can, however, identify which parks or public spaces the prohibition against overnight sheltering will not be applied,” the city said in its press release.

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“This response to the rapid growth of those requiring outdoor shelter is not ideal for anyone,” the city said. “However, it was determined the sites best balanced the rights of the people sheltering outside with people impacted in neighbouring areas and the broader community.”

Community safety director Darren Caul says the specific locations were selected for a reason.

“The properties were selected based on a number of factors that considered the current use, amenities and programming at the site, the accessibility of the site — not only for the people sheltering there but also for emergency services — and the distance to services in the core of the city,” Caul said.

On Monday evening, residents in the North End held a rally against the city’s sudden decision to move the homeless encampment into their neighbourhood.

People at a rally against the decision to move Kelowna’s homeless encampment voice their concerns
People at a rally against the decision to move Kelowna’s homeless encampment voice their concerns

The city said two security personnel will monitor the sites daily between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., and both bylaw services and RCMP will enhance patrols throughout the neighbourhoods.

It added that basic amenities will be provided at each designated site, including washroom facilities, garbage disposal, sharps disposal, bottled water and daytime storage.