Business owners along the 1000 block of Richter Street are growing increasingly concerned about what they call a sharp rise in criminal activity in the area.
“It’s terrible,” said Shari McDowell, owner of both Azimuth Solar Products and Aquassure. “I never thought it would be this bad.”
McDowell, who has been operating her Aquassure business in that location for 10 years, said she’s never experienced this level of crime before.
“People shooting up right in front of the business parked out front. I’ve been threatened more than once, people walking around with large sticks hitting the building. I’ve been afraid to leave the building,” she said.
McDowell said she noticed the rise in crime after an emergency homeless shelter opened across the street earlier in the year.
“It never occurred to me that when you have a shelter, what would happen is all the dealers would be drawn to this area to deal to their clientele. And then all the clientele that don’t live in the shelter have also been drawn to this area,” McDowell told Global News.
“So in two months, it is such an incredible difference in the feel of the street.”
Geoff Storozuk owns Altered Ego Motorsports a few steps away and echoed the same concerns.
“Since the shelter came in across the street, we’re having nothing but problems with issues, drug users, needles, paraphernalia. They’re breaking into the yard out back constantly,” said Storozuk. “I’m coming seven days a week to check my property.”
Both business owners said something needs to be done to improve the situation for everyone involved, including customers.
“It’s not healthy for any of the businesses down here and it’s really rough. It’s tough right now,” he said.
Storozuk said he doesn’t know what the solution is, but suggested police presence would likely help.
The emergency shelter is operated by the Turning Points Collaborative Society.
“I’m heartbroken for all of the neighbouring businesses that are around here that are dealing with any sort of impact from people sheltering outdoors or within our shelter,” said shelter manager Caitlin McKenny.
McKenny said she is aware of some of the business concerns, adding that the shelter is working closely with the city to mitigate some of the ongoing concerns.
“It’s super unfortunate that this is happening and it’s something that is bound to happen, whether we are here or not. But we are doing our best to amp up the amount of security patrols that we’re doing,” McKenny said.
“The city is going to be doing the same thing to kind of give that peace of mind to the neighbours, that we’re doing the best that we can to make sure everybody is safe and happy within this community.”
McKenny encouraged concerned business owners to communicate any issues with the shelter so they can follow up and take action, if necessary.
“I just want the neighbours to know that we do care,” McKenny said. “We are all about making sure that everybody is happy.”
She also said that businesses can also communicate with RCMP and bylaw services so they, too, can help out.
The emergency shelter was supposed to close at the end of March, but received a one-year extension to operate until the end of March 2022 from B.C. Housing.
McDowell is so concerned that she’s contemplating relocating her two businesses elsewhere.
“I’m thinking of looking at moving to the other side of town so I can get away from it,” McDowell said.
McDowell added she’s always been supportive of services for those in need, but, with the impact on her and surrounding businesses being so significant, she’s now at odds with herself on the matter.
“I’m actually in support of having services for people and having shelters. I’ve always been very passionate advocate for that sort of thing and now I feel like a heartless person because I’m so upset about this, but I don’t know,” she said.
“I’m fighting with myself over this too because I feel like something needs to be done. We are bearing the brunt of it financially.”
In an e-mail to Global News, Kelowna RCMP said that it would be impossible to attribute crime fluctuations directly to one issue, but added that it continually monitors both residential and commercial properties, along with areas that are experiencing increased calls for police service.
Police are also encouraging residents to always report suspicious and suspected criminal activity.