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City asks residents not to donate directly to Kelowna’s homeless population

The City of Kelowna is requesting that anyone looking to donate items to the homeless do so through local non-profits.

Many people have attempted to donate food, blankets and other items to those camping at the temporary shelter off Recreation Avenue in Kelowna's north end.

However, because residents of the shelter must pack up their belongings and leave the area by 9 am each day, excess materials have become an issue.

<who> Photo Credit: NowMedia.

To comply with all food safety regulations, the City has partnered with the Central Okanagan Food Bank, which has agreed to continue delivering food to the Recreation Avenue site seven days a week.

Those wishing to assist and donate toward the Central Okanagan Food Bank’s Un-Sheltered Program can do so by visiting their website to learn more about what is accepted for people sheltering outdoors and hours of operation.

A number of other non-profits that provide food to people in need in our community, including those sheltering outside, also have established distribution programs for those who wish to donate.

“It is amazing to see this outpouring of compassion from the community,” said Darren Caul, Director of Community Safety for the City of Kelowna.

“However, approximately 350 kilos of abandoned materials and food are collected and removed from the Recreation Avenue site daily. Directing donations to the appropriate non- profit agencies will ensure that less is thrown out and benefit more people while ensuring Recreation Avenue is used for its intended purpose of overnight sheltering only.”

The Recreation Avenue site is intended to only permit temporary overnight sheltering and is not intended to be the site of an ongoing, continuously occupied homeless encampment.

The lesson learned from the experience of other local governments in British Columbia with ongoing homeless encampments is that they quickly escalate in size and complexity and create hazards and dangers that impact the homeless population as well as the surrounding community.

Delivering large volumes of donated materials to the site is incompatible with the limited use of the site for temporary overnight sheltering.

While awaiting stable sheltering solutions to be developed and opened, the City is committed to striking a balance between the health and safety needs of those sheltering outside and the needs of the neighbourhood and community at large.

This will be achieved by not enabling a 24/7 long-standing, entrenched tent-city encampment, similar to Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, Regina Park in Saanich or the St. Anne’s encampment in Maple Ridge.

"Our primary focus is always to ensure the safety of everyone who lives in our community. We know, in speaking with our colleagues across the province and the country, the safety risks to those living in camps, the community and our emergency response personnel increases the longer these camps are established,” said Brent Mundle, Kelowna RCMP Superintendent. "While we recognize the need to support those in crisis, we also want to ensure there is a respected balance of safety and care within our community."

Interior Health is providing mental health and substance use outreach services to the site twice daily, which includes a walk-through of the site, identifying any visible health concerns, providing harm reduction services and general outreach support, such as information about services.

IH also provides community-based mental health and substance use services at the Outreach Urban Health Centre at 455 Leon Ave and the Community Health & Services Centre at 505 Doyle Avenue. A number of other agencies are also active on site.

“The large warming tent on site has helped us to significantly reduce the use of and need for propane heaters and candles in tents, which pose a risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Travis Whiting, Kelowna Fire Department Fire Chief. “Incidents here in Kelowna over the past month, as well as incidents seen in other communities with established tent cities, show these risks to be very real.”

In addition to the warming tent, blankets, hats, mittens and hand warmers are distributed. Transportation is also occurring to deliver people to supports and services. In addition, basic hygienic amenities such as toilets, garbage disposal and sharps disposals are provided. Security is on site and is supplemented by an increased RCMP and Bylaw presence. The City will continue to monitor the site and adapt as required.

The City say that it continues to support BC Housing and non-profit agencies’ efforts to secure additional emergency shelter beds to reduce the number of people who need to sleep outside.

The opening of bridge housing on Fuller Avenue in mid-December will free up 40 much needed spaces in existing shelters. However, the City acknowledges that there is more work to be done to create enough indoor space for everyone sleeping outside.

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