1: Homelessness crisis

Madison Erhardt

Castanet is counting down the top stories of 2018. We'll have our newsmaker of the year on New Year's Day.

Our No. 1 story of 2018 – Homelessness

Homelessness is nothing new in Kelowna – but in 2018, it hit a crisis point.

The news was dominated by residents, tourists and business owners fearful for their safety, tales of threats and violence, plus an ever increasing number of discarded needles and unseemly acts played out in public.

The owner of Illichmann and Sons Deli, which has been operating for more than 50 years in the Capri area, threatened to relocate due to issues around the Inn From the Cold shelter.

Homelessness and its corresponding social issues played out front and centre during the municipal election campaign. Each candidate had his or her own ideas on how to solve the crisis.

Experts believe mental health issues and addiction are contributing to troubles for those who are genuinely homeless due to other circumstances.

The city believes its Journey Home initiative will provide a long-term solution to homelessness. Its key initiative is to find housing for those on the streets or in shelters. The belief being true recovery can't begin until people have a stable roof over their head.

With that in mind, the city has been working with BC Housing to secure enough housing for the city's approximately 350 homeless. Eighty-eight units were opened this year, with the potential for another 102 in 2019.

One of those, on Agassiz Road, is the subject of a massive protest by area residents, mostly seniors, who are fearful of the type of people a 'wet' supportive housing complex will bring to their neighbourhood.

The city also contracted former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon to look at the issue of homelessness and public safety from both a long, and short-term perspective. His report, authored last month, made several recommendations, and outlined numerous initiatives already undertaken.

Those included a concerted effort to clean up downtown streets, providing public washrooms and adding garbage receptacles along Leon Avenue, as well as providing extra security patrols.

McKinnon also laid some of the blame for issues downtown on the “ill fated” decision to green-light the 80-bed Cornerstone shelter on Leon. He said it put too many at-risk people in too small a space.

All have agreed progress is being made, but the journey will be a long one.

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