Leon Ave becomes tent city

The City of Kelowna may be powerless to rid Leon Avenue and City Park of the growing number of tents, tarps and other shelters that have popped up in recent weeks.

A pair of appeals court rulings, in Victoria in 2009 and Abbotsford in 2015, stated bylaws banning homeless encampments or 'tent cities' breached homeless persons' rights to "life, liberty and security of the person" guaranteed under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

However, that doesn't mean what is going on on Leon, and other areas downtown is not a concern.

"Any time that we have people living on sidewalks in the city, that's a concern, not only for them as vulnerable members of our city, but also a concern in terms of the appearance and affect it can have for our businesses," said director of community safety Darren Caul.

"One of our great challenges is that our shelters are nearly full. Our concentrated effort right now is to work with BC Housing, Journey Home, and our partners to develop a mat program for this winter."

The provincial mat program runs from November through March.

"There is still considerable work occurring between the city and our partners to find suitable spaces around our city for that (mat) program.

"I can't speculate when that will occur, but we all know the weather is changing quickly, and that's a real trigger."

Another concern for Caul is the number of people living rough on downtown streets. He says an average of 22 people were sleeping rough in the downtown core in June. That number has nearly doubled to 43.

Caul says it's too early to know exactly what is driving the numbers upward.

"We are digging into that question," he says. "We are working with BC Housing and our on-street workers, who are conducting interviews and conversations with people who are sleeping rough to dig into where they are coming from and what their circumstances are."

While a mat program would provide a temporary solution during the winter months, Caul says it would bridge to a more stable, and long-term solution, namely the opening of the Agassiz, McCurdy and Macintosh supportive housing facilities.

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