Homeless shelter site

The green-shaded area indicates the proposed location of a 40-bed homeless shelter in West Kelowna. Council will be asked Tuesday to give the necessary approval.

The closest neighbour to a proposed Westside homeless shelter is in full support of the 40-bed, temporary facility.

Parishioners at SunRidge Community Church say they understand the need for the shelter, and they hope its planned opening starts a new kind of conversation about the homeless.

""We believe this defined, fenced, lit, and supervised space is well thought through and allows us to host these members of our community who are in difficult circumstances in a humane way," Pastor Michael Klassen says.

"The crisis being experienced this winter in our city of West Kelowna, and across the bridge in Kelowna, should open up a new kind of conversation and push better ideas forward, but for now, this seems like a good and reasonable response," Klassen says.

"A good outcome to all of this in the days to come would be that our West Kelowna community would think creatively, courageously, and compassionately about this and maybe even set an example for other other communities," Klassen says.

While the church welcomes the homeless shelter, hundreds of other people do not. As of Sunday morning, 758 have signed an online petition opposed to the site.

"I'm not debating that we desperately need this service but please consider the impact on the Rose Valley, Lakeview Heights, and West Kelowna Estates neighbourhoods," petition organizer S. Gallivan writes on the Change.org website.

"Find a better location!!! Did you know chances are that insurance, home and auto, will go up, and there will be no additional policing," the petition states.

At their Tuesday meeting, West Kelowna city councillors will be asked to approve BC Housing's plan to open a six-month homeless shelter at 1160 Stevens Rd. in the city's industrial area.

The facility will be run by the West Kelowna Shelter Society, a group which has previous experience offering overnight accommodation to the city's homeless at two other locations that are not operating this winter.

A 2018 homeless count identified 72 people who were sleeping rough on the Westside and the number is believed to have risen substantially since then.

The proposed shelter site is currently vacant, privately-owned land. BC Housing plans to add temporary buildings with housing, showers, toilets, and amenity space.

No kitchen is planned but meals would be brought to the shelter. Those chosen to live there, with priority to be given to people with an existing connection to West Kelowna, will be able to come and go through the day.

Use of illegal drugs will be permitted in the shelter, in keeping with Interior Health's policy of Housing First, in which priority is given to offering homeless and mentally ill people with safe and stable accommodation in hopes they will then avail themselves of various treatment and counselling programs.

"Although we anticipate most drug use will happen inside the shelter, the society would be sweeping the streets daily as a courtesy to neighbours," reads part of a report to West Kelowna city councillors.

While the church is the closest neighbor, other properties nearby include Hudson Road elementary school (620 metres distant), and several commercial and retail complexes around the corner of Westlake Road and Stevens Road.

The decision for council is whether to issue a temporary use permit for the proposed shelter site. Although the permit would be for six months, it can be extended for up to three years at the discretion of council.