The number of people seeking shelter under the awning of Interior Health’s downtown outreach centre has increased dramatically over the past three months, and seems to be causing issues for nearby business owners.
Recently, a group of concerned members of the Downtown Kelowna Association created a survey to see how those experiencing homelessness has impacted other shops and restaurants.
“We are concerned downtown business owners reaching out for your help to illustrate the business impacts Interior Health’s Overdose Prevention Site and Outreach Urban Health Centre have had on our neighbourhood,” the survey says.
Despite the recent concerns, the site has been there for a few years, explained Mark Burley, executive director at Downtown Kelowna Association.
However, the population of people seeking shelter from the elements under the Interior Health awning at the corner of Pandosy Street and Leon Avenue has “grown exponentially,” over the last few months, said Burley.
He said that construction in other areas of downtown has eliminated other popular spaces to sleep, forcing more people into a single covered area. Additionally, bylaw has reported that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna has tripled over the last year.
Burley said that the people living under the awning are not even necessarily clients of Interior Health and do not access the services like supervised drug use and counselling that is offered.
The downtown on call, or ‘red shirts’ team, that is run by the Downtown Kelowna Association has been working alongside bylaw and the RCMP to ensure the community is safe for all people.
The red shirts and Clean Teams are out there every day doing the best they can to mitigate conflict and keep the downtown clean, said Burley.
He said that simply having people get up and move is not a great solution because they just come back.
Many people experiencing homelessness do not like to live at the designated Richter Street encampment, because of conflicts, safety and concerns with access to resources, since it is located a ways from food and social services.
Ultimately, “we need to get people not sleeping on the streets,” said Burley.
Business owners in the downtown area claim that they have lost employees and customers as a result of vandalism, and the unsanitary, and at times, hostile conditions.
“Many of us have filed incident reports or issued complaints to the City, RCMP and/or Interior Health but little has changed. We feel that building a collective voice will help to escalate the need for change,” said the survey, which was open until March 3.
The results of the survey will be distributed to the mayor’s office, city council, the Downtown Business Association, Kelowna RCMP, Interior Health, the office of the BC Minister of Health, and Welbec Properties (owner of 1649 Pandosy St.), in an effort to create change.
The creator of the survey is anonymous and did not list an associated business.