People trying to help the homeless staying at a downtown compound say city and security officials are needlessly frustrating their efforts.
Some offerings of food, clothing and blankets aren’t getting to the people inside the fenced area in Recreation Park, says Kristel Ritchie.
“These are human beings, not criminals,” says Ritchie, who’s been going to the compound every night since last Friday.
“The conditions that they’re living in are terrible,” Ritchie said. “It’s like we’ve got a Third World country right here in downtown Kelowna. We have to help them.”
But city officials are reaffirming their earlier decision not to facilitate donations to those staying at the camp.
While recognizing the good intentions behind such donations, city officials say there are logistical problems with allowing the material to reach the homeless.
“It is amazing to see the outpouring of compassion from the community,” says Darren Caul, the city’s director of community safety.
“However, approximately 350 kilograms 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,” Caul said.
Directing large donations to the encampment might encourage its permanence and expansion, the city says, citing the experience in other cities.
“We know, in speaking with our colleagues across the province and country, the safety risks to those living in camps, the community and our emergency response personnel increases the longer these camps are established,” says Supt. Brent Mundle of the Kelowna RCMP.
A new 40-bed homeless shelter, funded by BC Housing and operated by the John Howard Society, will soon open at 555 Fuller Ave.
Along with herself, Ritchie says about 10 people are regularly bringing food and other donations to the Recreation Avenue encampment each night. And despite the city’s position, she intends to keep doing so.
“Once you see what’s going on there, you can’t turn away,” she says.