The City of Kelowna will try to identify the extent of homelessness in the community and outline effective ways to move people into stable and secure housing in 2016, Mayor Colin Basran says.
“This is definitely going to be a work in progress,” Basran said Sunday. “Homelessness isn’t something we’re going to eliminate in one year or within the term of this council.
“But we do need to at least try to identify the scope of the problem and to set measurable goals and targets for addressing the situation,” he said.
During last month’s 2016 budget deliberations, council agreed to create a new staff position, that of a homelessness and social issues co-ordinator. It’s a departure of sorts for the municipality, since these matters have generally been the purview of the provincial and federal governments.
But council was spurred into action in part because of a surge in complaints about transient camps around Kelowna. About 300 such camps, varying in size and duration, were dismantled in 2015, double the number of recent past years.
The city is expected to advocate for a so-called “housing first” approach, in which the focus is simply on providing safe long-term shelter to homeless people, then trying to connect them with various social and health agencies.
Such an approach, it is claimed, has been successful in communities such as Medicine Hat, Abbotsford and Kamloops in getting more people off the streets.
In 2016, council is also directing more resources toward helping police and bylaw staff deal with undesirable activity such as open drug use, aggressive panhandling and similar problems. Council has authorized the hiring of six additional RCMP officers, bringing the detachment’s strength up to 174 members.
For 2016, Basran said he is also keen to see the start of construction of a 24-storey, $65-million hotel at the base of Queensway overlooking Okanagan Lake. Council permission was granted in the summer of 2014, and city staff say they expect a formal development permit to be approved this month.
“I think this is the kind of project that is really going to be pivotal to the future of our downtown,” Basran said. “I’m really eager to see work started on the hotel.”
Two new city-owned parkades, with hundreds of additional stalls, will also open later this year, helping to alleviate what has become a bit of a parking crunch in the central core. Many of the stalls will be used by the nearly 800 Interior Health workers moving into a new downtown office building, but there will also be spaces for rent by the public.