Support homeless, not here

The decision on Agassiz Road is not about whether we support homeless people or not. It is a decision as to whether we do so with intelligent, evidence-based planning or whether we reject all good precedent and repeat the same planning mistakes made in numerous other cities across North America.

Kelowna is not the first city to attempt to address its homeless problem by simply providing housing for homeless people. It makes sense economically, but more importantly it reflects on our values as a society. Any so-called “top-10 country” should be embarrassed that humans are left to sleep on the streets.

As a supporter of the City of Kelowna’s Journey Home initiative, I am delighted to see this is going to be addressed in Kelowna over the coming years. We do, however, need to be cognizant of the impact on others that our strategies to address homelessness have.

While it may not be fashionable to say so, we can not ignore the fact that homelessness, substance abuse, mental health and criminality are all interlinked.

Information provided by the John Howard Society, BC Housing and Interior Health shows who is likely to be housed at 2025 Agassiz Rd. The population they serve is one of the most challenging to deal with. 70-80 per cent or more will have an active addiction, with the most common being heroin and crack cocaine. In this ‘harm reduction supportive housing’ building, little will be done to address these addictions.

Residents are permitted to store illegal drugs in their units and are permitted to use them on site. Statistics also show the success rate of these programs: upon ‘completion’ around 80 per cent of participants continue to struggle with their addictions.

Addiction to hard drugs makes people a threat to the personal safety and security of others around them. 

Government needs to be very careful where such harm reduction facilities are sited.

To date, prior to the Agassiz Road proposal, the City of Kelowna has engaged in intelligent planning regarding the siting of similar buildings.

Firstly, they are all in commercial-institutional zoned areas in alignment with their institutional character. Secondly, they are away from high-density residential areas and thus any issues that do arise at such buildings impact very few people. Reports by BC Housing show regular attendance by RCMP to deal with threats to staff and other matters at similar buildings, yet few people know this because few people are impacted by it.

The current proposal for Agassiz Road throws this precedent out the window. Other than Sunset Drive, there is no higher density neighbourhood in Kelowna. 

This mis-match of facility to neighbourhood has been tried already. Examples from Vancouver include the Marguerite Ford Apartments, which produced no fewer than 729 police calls in its initial 16 months of operation; a facility on Princess Avenue which produced around 60 calls a month during its first six months of operation.

Victoria’s Burnside Gorge area is blighted with problems that are all centred around similar buildings.

With all this in mind, residents have been forced to obtain legal counsel to defend our rights and protect the safety and security of our neighbourhood.

The best interests of all concerned, and particularly Kelowna’s homeless population, are served by BC Housing withdrawing its applications immediately.

There are plenty of other sites in Kelowna that would be considerably more suitable for a low-barrier harm reduction facility. The old Ponderosa Motel site for example, or the acres of land near the RCMP station that is being redeveloped.

Our homeless population deserve our support. It's time the powers that be behind this initiative admit their mistake and begin working collaboratively to achieve our collective goal of safely housing our homeless.

Richard Taylor

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