A homeless man and a protestor briefly disrupted a news conference announcing housing for people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna on Thursday (Oct. 12).
Mayor Tom Dyas and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon made the announcement at city hall.
While Kahlon was speaking an agitated man, just a few yards behind the minister, yelled several comments and expletives as bylaw officers blocked his way.
“I’m tired of being pushed around in my hometown, being a homeless guy” he screamed.
Kahlon stopped speaking for a few seconds.
After several more comments, the man eventually left, while bylaw officers followed.
Another man held up a sign that read ‘Tell JayJean Stop Racist’ and tried to interrupt Kahlon several times.
Bylaw officers also kept him away from the minister.
The announcement was that the city and BC Housing will build 120 housing units over the coming months to support people who are unhoused and sheltering in encampments.
“We believe encampments are not safe for communities and they’re not safe for the individuals living in them,” Kahlon said.
“Kelowna says ‘we want to work with you to get housing available for people before we move in on encampments.’ That’s the relationship we signed today.”
Kahlon added it’s an example other cities across the province can follow.
“Let’s take care of people and make sure they have somewhere to go and not just displace them.”
The units will be funded through the provincial government’s new Homeless Encampment Action Response Temporary Housing (HEARTH) program.
They are intended as a temporary housing solution while the city and BC Housing work to identify new permanent supportive housing.
Kelowna is the first location in the Interior to use a tiny-home solution, which features small single-room units (60 square feet) that are quick to build and easy to install.
“The need for shelter and housing solutions in our community has never been greater,” Dyas said. “By the process of making the encampments smaller, we’re making the community safer.
According to bylaw services, there are approximately 150 people living in the encampment along Kelowna’s Rail Trail.
More information on where the units will be located will be revealed in the next two weeks, but the city has identified a handful of locations.
“Initially the first 120 will be on two, but we are speaking of three locations,” Dyas added.
Once built the units will be operated by non-profit groups that will provide support services such as daily meals, 24/7 staffing, access to skills training, and support navigating the housing system.
Individuals moving into these new homes will be assessed and matched with appropriate supports.
Who is eligible to move into the units will be decided by organizations including non-profits, the city, First Nations, health professionals, and others.
“Where they sit together and identify individuals and identify what’s the right fit,” Kahlon explained. “That helps make sure that the people moving in are ready and that it’s a right mix of people in that housing.”
The minister added that it is not just individuals with mental health challenges, or addiction issues who are unhoused.
“It’s not one solution that will solve this. We have people working full-time jobs who are finding themselves homeless.”
Khalon noted that overall, more housing needs to be built in the province.
“We’re two decades behind and all types of housing are needed at the same time.”
Tiny homes have also been installed in Victoria and Duncan, and Kahlon said his ministry will be looking to Kelowna as a pilot program.
“This is a different type of condition. It’s a little bit colder in the winter, a little bit warmer in the summer, and seeing how it works here will be important for us to see how we roll out.”
The city and the province are also partnering to implement Homeless Encampment Action Response Teams (HEART).
Its purpose is to respond to encampments and support people sheltering outdoors to move inside.
Following the news conference Kahlon spoke with the protestor who held up the sign.
The man told Kahlon that those closest to the problem (homelessness) have the best solutions and accused the government of ‘purposely staying away from the problem.’
“If you believe the answers are in communities I would agree with you,” Kahlon said. “We do engage with people who build homes, we engage with not-for-profits who are building homes, they are the ones telling solutions to us.”
The man also told Kahlon that he and homeless people are treated badly by authorities in the city.
“They surround me, they intimidate me, they threaten me. I’m an active member of the community, I’m not a homeless person. I’m just an old man holding a sign and this is the way I get treated in this city.”