British Columbia

Supervised injection site proposal for Kelowna draws concerns, support

A group of Kelowna, B.C., professionals is encouraging people and businesses in the Okanagan city to consider the merits of a proposed supervised injection site in the downtown core.
A space owned by the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society on Leon Avenue in Kelowna has been named as a proposed location for a supervised consumption site. (Jaimie Kehler)

A group of Kelowna, B.C., professionals, academics and frontline workers is encouraging people and businesses in the Okanagan city to consider the merits of a proposed supervised injection site in the downtown core, after the local business improvement association criticized the potential location.

The message of support came in the form of an open letter that defends having a supervised consumption site in downtown Kelowna as something that would save lives and reduce crime and the transmission of infectious diseases.

Last week the Interior Health Authority proposed a permanent supervised consumption site at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society at 477 Leon Ave., as well as a mobile safe injection unit.

The health authority said along with Kamloops, Kelowna has the highest number of overdose deaths in the region and has been chosen as a priority community for supervised consumption services.

'Injection site will undermine public safety'

The Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA) — a non-profit business improvement association — is opposed to the Leon Avenue location.

"The DKA is seriously concerned that a supervised consumption site at that location will undermine public safety in the Leon area and will present a roadblock to revitalization," the association said in a written statement.

"It has been the DKA's number one priority for years to make that area safer for our members and the public and to revitalize that area for development."

Norah Bowman, an Okanagan College professor and former federal NDP candidate, is one of 10 professionals who signed the open letter outlining the merits of the injection site.

In an interview on CBC Radio One's Daybreak South, Bowman said she's happy the DKA is engaged in a public discussion about the issue.

Norah Bowman is one of 10 Kelowna professionals encouraging people and businesses in the Okanagan city to support a downtown supervised injection site. (Twitter/Norah Bowman)

"I definitely understand the discomfort people have about a safe injection facility and seeing people using illicit drugs and dying from illicit drugs in public spaces," she said.

"The fact is, it would actually look better with a safe injection facility because people would no longer be using drugs right in front of a business owner's business on a sidewalk. And the business owner, if they see a person doing that, can say there is a safe injection facility a block down, could you please go there."

Family connection to heroin addiction

Bowman explained she cares so much about this issue because her father was a heroin addict in the 1970s.

"At that time, there was really nobody to talk to about it and no support, and then he got hepatitis C and he also ended up in prison, which was a really traumatic and horrible experience for him and our whole family" she said.

"He wishes so much that there was something like safe injection facilities, not just so much that he wouldn't have gotten hep C, but so that he could have talked to someone about what led him to use heroin in the first place."

Bowman said she wants people who are like her father now and in the future to have a better chance.

With files from CBC Radio One's Daybreak South and Christina Low

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Concerns and support for supervised injection site in downtown Kelowna