British Columbia

Homeless campers in Kelowna release list of demands with help of activists from Metro Vancouver

Group holds news conference to ask for homes instead of shelter beds and electrical outlets to run heaters.

They want homes, not shelters, and less police interference

'These demands came from a meeting we had with a group of residents asking about what they want in order to leave,' said Listen Chen, an organizer with Alliance Against Displacement, based in Surrey, B.C. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

People living in tents in Kelowna, B.C., released a list of demands Tuesday with the help of a Surrey-based advocacy group called Alliance Against Displacement, or AAD.

AAD members spent two days in the central Okanagan city with members of a tent city on Leon Avenue. They created a petition and collected signatures in support of the demands they want governments and law enforcement to fulfil, including:

  • Building homes for the homeless instead of shelters.
  • Providing safer heat for tents.
  • Stopping police and bylaw officers from entering tents without permission or removing belongings.

"These demands came from a meeting we had with a group of residents asking about what they want in order to leave," said Listen Chen, an organizer with the alliance, at a press conference she organized for the homeless community. 

Shelters and supportive housing units offered in the city aren't adequate, she added.

"A home is a place where you have dignity, where you have autonomy, where you have a kitchen, a bathroom, where your family can visit you and supportive housing doesn't fulfil any of those conditions and neither do shelters," said Chen.

Deanna Cowens says she would like to see affordable housing without restrictions. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Deanna Cowens, who lives in tent city, said she wants more affordable options for housing because shelters are full and  supportive housing units have restrictions.

A temporary winter shelter B.C. Housing is expected to open in the city — which will provide mats for people to sleep on — isn't a suitable option for her either because she has two injured hips.

"A lot of us have broken body parts. We can't get up and down off mats. This is getting too cold," Cowens told Daybreak South's Brady Strachan.

"We need places for all of us that have heat. We don't want to live by other people's rules. We want to do what we want to do and there's nothing out here for us that we can afford."

'Frustrating distraction,' says Journey Home Society

The Central Okanagan Journey Home Society, which is overseeing Kelowna's five-year plan to address homelessness, is not pleased with AAD's approach.

"At this time, having an outside group descend upon our community with their own ideas, interpretations and agendas, while so many in the community are working toward the common goal of providing outreach and support to as many as possible is a frustrating distraction," said Kyleen Myrah, who chairs the society's board, in an emailed  statement.

Tents cover the sidewalk of both sides of Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

"It is more important than ever to stay the course and focus our efforts, continuing to work collaboratively toward the development of community-based solutions to our issues."

Since 2018,130 people who were previously homeless have been housed. Three provincially funded supportive housing projects are under construction and are expected to provide an additional 100 units in 2020, said Myrah.

"B.C. Housing has the mandate and funding to deliver supportive housing and temporary winter shelter programs and we continue to work with them on solutions for our community."

Safety is the priority, say RCMP

In a statement emailed to CBC, the Kelowna RCMP said their primary concern is the safety of the public, including those experiencing homelessness, and police officers.

"Violence, lawlessness and criminal behaviour are not acceptable and will not be tolerated. RCMP police officers will take action on a case by case basis with a focus on enforcement should there be any criminal activities that pose a threat to the safety of individuals or property," said the statement.

With files from Brady Strachan

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