A neighbourhood group has penned an open letter to Kelowna’s mayor and council expressing concern about the relocation of a homeless encampment to the base of Knox Mountain and advocating for the establishment of an indoor winter shelter space.
Amanda Poon, president of the Kelowna Downtown Knox Mountain Neighbourhood Association, said members are not opposed to sheltering Kelowna’s homeless population in their neighbourhood, but the current location at Poplar Point is problematic.
“We don’t feel that Poplar Park is a suitable location, it’s not a good place for anyone to camp. The elements are too harsh for anyone to stay,” she told Global News on Monday.
The open letter expresses disappointment with the lack of community consultation before the city moved the Leon Avenue tent city in downtown Kelowna to the north end on Nov. 26.
The decision was abruptly announced after the fire department voiced concern over hazardous conditions in the area.
“Whatever strategic value the city gains by operating without transparency, it is detrimental to your stakeholders long term because it creates division, mistrust, anger, and fear,” the letter says.
The letter acknowledges the controversy has divided neighbours.
“These disruptive actions caught residents off guard and caused schisms between formerly agreeable neighbours. We now find ourselves in combative debates over how to adapt
and respond,” the letter says.
The city says the new homeless camp will only operate between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., adding that two security personnel will monitor the sites daily between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. and that both bylaw services and RCMP will enhance patrols throughout the neighbourhoods.
Poon said the “operational impracticality” is causing people experiencing homelessness to disperse throughout the community when they are forced to pack up their tent each morning.
“We really feel that that set-up and pack-up policy is unfair and that it doesn’t serve the clients of the tent city and it neither serves the residents,” she said.
“Due to the militant control of that camp and due to the difficulty for people to properly pack up their stuff… what we are seeing is people scattering all over,” she said.
Poon said the outrage among some local residents and petitions being circulated to decommission the encampment do not represent the opinions of the entire community.
“We are really open to starting a conversation in a more positive manner. Starting with a petition, starting with a hard ‘no’ without providing an alternative solution of what you are willing to see, I think that just closes down debate and conversation and it shuts a door.”
Meanwhile, another group of residents protested at Kelowna City Hall on Monday afternoon demanding swift action to find shelter space for the homeless.
Tom Wilson, a spokesperson with the City of Kelowna, said efforts are underway to find indoor space for people living without homes this winter.
“These agencies are encouraged by the Downtown Knox Mountain Association’s open letter supporting a well-managed indoor shelter to replace overnight outdoor shelter locations and look forward to finding ways to work together moving forward,” the emailed statement said.
“We are confident we’ll have some good news to report about a winter shelter soon.”