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Kamloops residents, business owners raise concerns about new day spaces

·11 min read

Some residents are voicing their concerns regarding where new day spaces for the homeless are being set up this month — one along West Victoria Street downtown and another in North Kamloops, about a half-block from The Loop drop-in centre, which is now closed to gatherings.

For the next four months, The Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society (KAFS), Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), ASK Wellness Society and Interior Community Services (ICS) will operate the day space, dubbed Envision, at 346 Campbell Ave.

It is the vacant, privately owned former liquor store property behind the Northbridge Hotel on Tranquille Road.

Meanwhile, later this month, KAFS and The Mustard Seed will open a day space for the homeless, dubbed The Gathering Place, in a parking lot next to the city’s storage facility for the homeless, at 48 West Victoria Street.

Envision is to open at 9 a.m. and close at 9 p.m., with shuttle service to shelter space offered at the end of the day.

The site will have tables, tents and chairs set up in the parking lot and will be run by a pair of outreach workers and a program co-ordinator. Meals, water and washroom access will be on hand, along with opportunities to connect with services.

The project has the backing of the City of Kamloops, but does not appear to have the support of all residents, many of whom live on the other side of a fence line or alleyway that abuts the property.

The McDonald Park Neighbourhood Association (MPNA) recently surveyed residents to gather their thoughts on the project and found 65 per cent of 181 respondents said they do not support the Envision project on Campbell Avenue.

Ten per cent are in favour of it and another 25 per cent said they are not sure.

The top concerns amongst respondents are that the space would bring about an increase in garbage and drug paraphernalia in the surrounding neighbourhood and an increase in property crime.

Those were followed by concerns regarding disturbances from people yelling and making threats, increased loitering, declining property values and general safety concerns, MPNA spokesperson Sarah Johnstone told KTW.

She said most respondents were from the McDonald Park area.

City officials reached out to the association shortly after announcing the day space was coming, inviting residents to a 5 p.m. weekday meeting last week in McDonald Park to hear concerns. The media were not invited to the event.

Johnstone said about 30 residents attended and expressed their frustrations and concerns, which reflected the concerns sussed out in the survey.

Residents, particularly on Campbell Avenue and adjacent Angus Street — both of which back on to the Envision property — had concerns, she said, noting The Loop drop-in centre for the homeless and others in need did not integrate well into the neighbourhood. Other concerns raised were what might happen between the hours of operation, Johnstone said.

“It’s not so much people hanging out, but the actions that can accompany that,” Johnstone said, noting the possibility of people tenting in McDonald Park or committing crimes to feed addictions.

“Not everyone who’s homeless is the issue, it’s the people who are going to be openly doing drugs within a few feet of children in the morning,” she said.

“We have multiple day cares in the neighbourhood.”

Johnstone said the neighbourhood association would have liked to have been consulted earlier to discuss better options for the space or mitigate possible community impacts.

KTW spoke with a few area residents, most of whom said the day space program is a good idea in a wrong location.

They also noted feeling as though enough social services are already operating in their neighbourhood, including nearby Spero House and group homes.

Campbell Avenue resident Barbara Robinsson, who was at last week’s meeting, said those in attendance raised security and safety concerns.

One main concern amongst residents is that those who don’t opt to be taken to shelters at night will instead camp in the neighbourhood, increasing the likelihood of drug use, property crime and human waste being left behind.

Lisa Gallant, who lives on Ross Street just off Campbell Avenue, said there have been issues with the homeless, crime and drug use off and on for years in the neighbourhood and doesn’t think the day space will increase what is already a problem.

“I don’t think it’ll lessen it, but I don’t know if it’s going to make it worse because it’s already bad. At least I won’t have to see it as much,” Gallant said, noting she no longer allows her 10-year-old granddaughter to venture to McDonald Park alone because she is concerned the girl may find a used needle.

Robinsson, however, thinks Envision will worsen the situation because, while drug use won’t be permitted on site, anyone under the influence who can manage themselves will still be admitted.

She feels this will lead to homeless individuals congregating in the neighbourhood around the perimeter of the day space to use drugs, then enter the day space only when they need something.

She described Campbell Avenue as a good street with few property crimes over the years, but she has noticed a spike in issues with the homeless since The Loop shut down.

Robinson said she has called police more in the last two weeks than she has in the past two years, noting two recent incidents — one in which someone ran into her yard looking to flush pepper spray from his eyes after allegedly trying to steal a bike, and another in which two people she roused from sleeping behind her fence threatened to burn down her fence and hit her neighbour with an axe.

Another Campbell Avenue resident who attended last week’s meeting, but asked not to have her name used, noted concerns raised regarding the site’s proximity to McDonald Park and day care spaces, around which used needles and trash have been known to be left.

“Do the kids in our neighbourhood not count? We pay taxes here. Is our safety not considered by the city?” she said.

The elderly woman said while she understands the need to help the homeless, she questioned the space being located in a residential area and lamented the fact residents were not given the chance to be involved in the decision.

Another resident KTW spoke with said fear is his biggest concern.

Asked what he’s afraid of happening, he replied: “Anything’s possible. It could be a stabbing, they could light fires.”

He said issues with street-entrenched people in the area have become worse over the years and notably worse since The Loop closed earlier this month, adding he has noticed drug use and dealing in the alley next to where Envision will be set up.

City of Kamloops social, housing and community development manager Carmin Mazzotta said last week’s meeting was a great discussion and that the city wanted to hear from the neighbourhood association ahead of the Envision opening.

He said he knows some were upset that residents weren’t consulted on Envision ahead of time, but noted they plan to work with them through the neighbourhood association on issues and concerns as they arise.

He said the situation came together quickly in what was a “tight turnaround” between the city opting to stop funding The Loop, given its numerous complaints, and a group of social agencies coming together with a proposal for a better managed day space on the vacant Campbell Avenue lot.

“There are folks who are experiencing homelessness on the North Shore and it’s about providing a day space for them to go and then an opportunity to connect them to the shelter system and, potentially, to longer term housing and supportive services,” Mazzotta said.

In response to concerns about neighbourhood safety after hours, Mazzotta noted community service (bylaws) officers are on shift until 10 p.m. and, after that, existing security patrols will be directed to loop through the Campbell Avenue area.

Asked what will be done if someone under the influence cannot manage themselves, CMHA executive director Alfred Achoba said they may ask the person to take a walk or be sent to a shelter. Calling the police would be a last resort.

“I think if people become aggressive and violent and a risk to themselves, or the other clients and staff or the neighbourhood, yes, we would call the cops if it’s needed,” Achoba said.

Achoba said Envision is still in the process of being set up and they are on track to open by this coming weekend or the following week. Asked what will be done if people don’t wish to go to shelter, Achoba said they hope to build relationships with people and hopefully that will translate into them moving into shelter eventually.

“When you treat people with respect and empathy, you tend to get the results you want,” Achoba said.

Robinsson said people at last Tuesday’s meeting suggested doing the program in reverse by setting up a hangout space at Mission Flats, where social housing facility Mission Manor is located, and shuttling people to services in town.

Mazzotta noted he heard that idea at the meeting, but stressed homeless individuals are not mandated to remain in these spaces and those struggling with addiction will still find their way to the core neighbourhoods where they access supply to feed their addiction.

Others, he said, will go to the areas where there’s access to services and amenities.

“The research doesn’t really bear it out and the experiences in other communities doesn’t really bear it out that when you remove folks to say an industrial area, completely removed from residential, that they won’t find their way back to that area,” Mazzotta said.

“The folks are already there and the idea is about connecting them to the shelter system, connecting them to services,” he said, noting there’s a better chance of doing that by going where the people are.

Business owners on West Victoria Street also have concerns about the location of The Gathering Place day space for the homeless.

The street has become well-known for myriad issues they are facing, including theft, vandalism, prostitution, arson and drug use.

The Gathering Place will be set up in the parking lot of the KAFS-run storage facility for the homeless, and will include some screens to reduce visibility from the road. It will operate from noon to 8 p.m. seven days a week for the next four months and have tables, tents and chairs set up for individuals.

It will be run by a pair of outreach workers and a program co-ordinator who can connect people with support services.

Neighbouring business owner Reid Hamer-Jackson, who owns TRU Market on Victoria Street West, said he has seen issues increase in the area with the addition of rooms at social service agencies across the street.

Hamer-Jackson said those who were accessing The Loop include residents of Rosethorn, Emerald Centre Mission Manor and Spero House, all of which have day lodges within their respective buildings, and feels money would be better invested in drug-treatment programs.

Hamer-Jackson said he’s concerned the space will be just “another Band-Aid” and that there will not be enough outreach workers on site trying to get people into drug-treatment programs.

“It’s just moving them around,” he said.

Mindy Sandhu of Stereo Warehouse and Sisters Sleep Gallery said she feels the day space won’t have the effect of getting people off the street as she has people who loiter outside her business she recognizes as being residents of Rosethorn and the Emerald Centre across the street, which already have space to hang out during the day.

“We already have five facilities within an arms length,” Sandhu said.

She said if the facility is well-run and not a nuisance to surrounding businesses, it may work, but she wonders who will take responsibility if it does not.

Sandhu said no one from the City of Kamloops or city council has reached out to her regarding the establishment of the day space and she has not bothered to reach out herself because she already expressed her frustration via email when council was initially considering the proposal weeks ago.

“How many facilities do they need on West Victoria Street?” Sandhu asked, adding she is concerned the day space will bring more property crime and drug use to the area.

She suggested opening up such a day space in a park or setting up space around the back of facilities such as Rosethorn, where other homeless who are not connected to a shelter can congregate and be connected with services.

Carmin Mazzotta said the Victoria Street West day space is being located next to a facility that is already serving the homeless population and was a proposal of non-profits who saw an opportunity to connect more people with services.

Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week

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