'We won't tolerate it around our kids': Rutland residents oppose social housing
Parents fear discarded needles, 'unpredictable people' when supportive housing comes to Rutland
Hundreds of residents of Kelowna's Rutland neighbourhood turned out for a B.C. Housing meeting on Wednesday to discuss their concerns over a controversial 49-unit supportive housing building slated for construction on McCurdy Road.
Opposition to the facility — which will be run by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and house homeless people and young adults struggling to find a place to live in the Okanagan — has been growing since Kelowna city council gave final approval to the project two weeks ago.
"It shouldn't be so near to schools, to the YMCA, to the Mac's store — that's where kids walk on summer days to go get Slurpees with their friends," said Dalraj Boparai, who came to the meeting to discuss her concerns about the choice of location for the building.
"They are not thinking about how Rutland Middle School, which is in viewing distance, has 11-year-old kids. These 11-year-old kids are going to think needles, addicts — that's the norm and that's not fair to these kids."
Understanding residents' concerns
Members of B.C. Housing, CMHA, Interior Health, and Kelowna's homelessness task force Journey Home were scattered throughout the meeting hall to discuss the supportive housing project with residents and answer questions.
People were encouraged to write down their concerns on paper and place them in comments boxes or record their thoughts on sticky notes and pasted to comment boards.
Through one-on-one conversations B.C. Housing is better able to understand residents' concerns and dispel any myths about the facility and the residents it will house, said regional director Ann Howard.
"People know that there are some challenges in their neighbourhood already and they are afraid it is going to get worse," Howard said, in reference to a perception among some Rutland residents that crime and open drug use are on the rise.
"This [supportive housing project] is actually going to be a solution."
Many people leaving the meeting said they are frustrated with what they heard from officials.
'We won't tolerate it'
Victoria Shannon believes B.C. Housing did not consider how close the building will be to parks, schools and community centres or the impact the people living there might have on youth in Rutland.
"We can't have [our children] there if this 'wet' facility opens, with the fear of needles and unpredictable people in unpredictable states of minds," Shannon said. "We won't tolerate it around out kids."
New residents of the supportive housing complex will be given support services 24 hours a day and offered opportunities to access health services and drug treatment options, according to B.C. Housing.
People moving into the facility will sign an agreement to be respectful in their new home and will be encouraged to clean up the streets around the building, said Howard.
"I think collectively with the community and our operators we will make things different and we will improve and then our neighbours within the community will actually see, 'yeah, we like this,' " Howard said.
Despite these assurances, many Rutland residents remained unconvinced and a protest march is planned for this weekend.