Kelowna's Recreation Avenue homeless camp stirs back to life

Homeless camp back to life

With the closure of multiple winter shelters in Kelowna and West Kelowna, the Recreation Avenue homeless camp has seen an increase in use.

The Stevens Road cold-weather shelter closed its doors in West Kelowna on March 31, along with Kelowna's Welcome Inn and the Fuller Avenue housing unit. Occupants of Fuller Avenue have moved to Rutland's new Samuel Place housing unit.

"We've seen an increase in people downtown that frankly have no where to go," says Kelowna RCMP Sgt. Greg Woodcox with the Community Safety Unit.

In late November 2019, the Recreation Avenue camp was opened to remove the unmanageable camp from Leon Avenue. The City of Kelowna is legally obligated to provide a space for people to camp if there is a shortage of shelter beds in the community. 

The city is, however, requiring that the homeless pack up their belongings every day.

Kelowna RCMP, Bylaw and city personnel arrive at 9 a.m. to ensure tents are packed up every morning.

"We haven't had any problems here, haven't had any calls of violence or anything like that and people have been very cooperative to us...I think it's cause we have an ongoing good relationship with these guys here so that helps," says Woodcox. 

With growing concerns over the homeless population in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Kelowna has posted signage in the camp to promote social distancing measures.

"We are concerned, should people show symptoms were encouraging them, telling them what to do, but we really haven't seen that yet and to my knowledge nobody in this population that I know of has tested positive for it," says Woodcox. 

"But that's definitely a concern because you're looking at anywhere between 20 and 40 people here together in tents and close contact, as well as us."

While Kelowna's Gospel Mission has shut down drop-in services and intakes, in addition to limiting the number of beds due to the pandemic, staff are still providing bagged breakfasts and lunches with the help of their outreach teams. 

Dinners are also served daily at the Recreation Avenue homeless camp from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. from the Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army's food truck. 

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