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Kelowna approves supportive housing project despite outrage from neighbours

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-01-20 Brady Strachan
a group of people in a room: Around 200 people packed into Kelowa city council chambers on Thursday evening for a the public hearing on a supportive housing complex on Agassiz Road.© Brady Strachan Around 200 people packed into Kelowa city council chambers on Thursday evening for a the public hearing on a supportive housing complex on Agassiz Road.

Kelowna city council has approved a controversial 52-unit supportive housing building developed on a vacant lot surrounded by condos and houses in the city's Midtown neighbourhood.

The project, led by B.C. Housing, will provide homes and social services for homeless and at-risk Kelowna residents. Drug and alcohol use will be allowed at the housing complex and there will be harm reduction services where residents can use drugs in a supervised environment.

More than 200 people packed into city council chambers Thursday night for a public hearing, which lasted until nearly 1:30 a.m. Friday as approximately 65 people spoke to council about the project.

Council unanimously approved a bylaw amendment to green-light the building, despite strong objections from many of the residents who live close to where it will be built.

"I will always believe in building a city where everyone belongs, where there are no segregated and exclusive neighbourhoods, where we foster inclusion," said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran. 

'Shame on you'

Many of the residents opposed to the facility were seniors who spoke about their fears that it will bring an increase in drug use and crime to their neighbourhood.

"It's a high-density area in which over 600 seniors live within 500 feet from this address," said Donna Burbank.

"This plan for housing the drug addicted and homeless in our area will put added stress and introduce new risks into the lives of senior residents."

a large building: City of Kelowna© City of Kelowna City of Kelowna

Others emphasized that although Kelowna needs housing for the homeless, it would be better suited to an area away from so many residences, like the Hearthstone supportive housing building located in an industrial part of the city.

"If you allow this project to pass as it is, I say shame on you," said Geraldine Bush. "What you are proposing for our neighbourhood is unconscionable."

Stabilizing effect

Proponents like non-profit organization The John Howard Society, which will manage the building, tried to assuage neighbours' concerns.

The organization's executive director, Gaylene Askew, said most of the residents will not be active drug users.

"The people that will be living there just want safety too," Askew said.

Askew went on to add that getting homeless people in secure housing often has a stabilizing effect and allows people to reassess their priorities in life.

She told councillors that she doesn't believe opening this facility will have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of people already living in the neighbourhood.

'Fear has spread like a plague'

Other speakers also encouraged city council to approve the project, citing a desperate need for homes for the 286 people counted as homeless in Kelowna in March 2018.

"The predator in this scenario is not the homeless person," said Peggy Salaberry. "The predator is fear, and this fear has spread like a plague."

Other people who spoke in support of the housing complex had experienced homelessness themselves and shared stories of how stable housing has allowed them to turn their lives around.

"I just hope you guys consider the lives that could be helped," said Calib Jones, who lived on the streets a year ago.

"A warm meal and a roof over your head, with some privacy, is an opening to the heart and a chance for people to focus on themselves instead of their stuff and the person that is living two feet away from them."

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