Dozens of upset residents gathered at Kelowna’s Innovation Centre on Saturday morning to organize against city council’s recent decision to move a downtown homeless encampment into the North End.
Neighbours were still reeling from the city’s sudden decision on Tuesday to move the growing homeless encampment on Leon Avenue to the North End. The decision was abruptly announced after the fire department voiced concern over hazardous conditions in the area.
However, it prompted swift backlash from North End residents who said the city failed to adequately consult or communicate with them about the move.
“There comes a point where a normal taxpaying person deserves to have a safe neighbourhood and deserves to say, ‘It’s enough’,” local resident Raquel Thors said. “I’m not going to be politically correct anymore. I want to be safe in my neighbourhood.”
Those previously living on Leon Avenue were given a choice of camping at either Recreation Park or at Poplar Point, which is near the base of Knox Mountain.
The latter option, which is a beloved city park, was hugely criticized in the broader community as a decision that was poorly thought out.
“It’s unsuitable. The fact is, you can’t put a tent up there. It’s going to blow down. It’s extremely windy and it’s cold, and quite frankly, it seems more like optics on the part of the city,” said Amanda Poon, Kelowna Downtown Knox Mountain Association’s president.
“We know that nobody to date has utilized that park. No one is going to stay there.”
Local resident Dena Barabash said she’s organizing a petition that is asking council to decommission the Knox Mountain Poplar Point homeless encampment.
“It’s as simple as that today,” she said. “That’s what’s important to us.
“We just want our mountain left the way it is because it’s beautiful and so many different areas get developed, and in this case, we still have that jewel. Let’s keep it.”
Residents are hoping to present the petition to council in the coming weeks.
“We’re doing it properly. We’re not going to aggressively storm them. We’re going to make sure we have council in session, and they allow us the time to speak and propose it,” Barabash said. “We’re getting letters from the community, impact statements saying how much they enjoy the park. That’s really it.”
Poon expressed concern that the sudden decision to move the homeless encampment off of Leon Avenue has dispersed people living in the streets around the city.
“People have been staying in places that they didn’t stay before,” she said. “They’ve been scattered. It’s not good for those campers, and it’s not good for the residents either.”
She also pointed out that the closure of a popular homeless shelter late earlier this year had a huge impact on the community.
“We lost Inn from the Cold, which had 40 beds. And so why are we surprised that we have an influx of people overcrowding outside of the Gospel Mission?” she said. “If you remove a shelter, if you remove 40 beds, you’re going to have 40 people sleeping in places that are not ideal.”
“We could have prepared for this earlier, and we should have,” she said. “Ultimately, at the end of the day, we want indoor shelter space.”
On Friday, the city told Global News that it is working hard on finding a temporary winter shelter and hopes to have a solution that it can share very soon.
Earlier this week, Mayor Colin Basran said council agonized over the location selection.
“It doesn’t matter what sites we designate, people will be unhappy about it. It’s an awful position, I can tell you, to be in,” he said. “At the end of the day, people need a place to stay, and there is no short-term or long-term housing right now.”