Photo: Colin Dacre-file
Business owners and employees around Interior Health’s Outreach Urban Health Centre feel unsafe and believe the site is detrimental to their ability to run a business.
Those are some of the conclusions of a voluntary survey conducted over a one-week period earlier this year.
The survey was produced by a downtown property owner concerned about the effects of what they call a “safe injection site” opened by Interior Health at the corner of Pandosy and Leon Avenue two years ago.
According to the results of the survey presented to the Downtown Kelowna Association board, most said they do not feel safe working downtown.
A total of 133 people who work within a 500-metre radius of the health unit filled out the survey questionnaire, including 97 within a 250-metre walk.
Of those, 45 were business or property owners and 87 employees. Twenty are attached to the retail industry, 23 to the service industry, and 14 in food or entertainment.
Other concerns by those responding include:
- People frequently entering businesses for non-business reasons
- High rates of incidents and vandalism
- Perceived to attract gangs and violence to the area
- A feeling IH and the city were not transparent about the opening of the site and have not made sufficient efforts to manage it
Proponents of the survey said they hoped the results would help advocate for a better solution for the unhoused and/or individuals with substance use disorders who desperately need IH services and systemic support.
Danielle Cameron, executive director of Clinical Operations for Interior Health, says she is not surprised by the results of the survey, saying it shows the challenges the community is facing when it comes to supporting some of our most vulnerable members.
“The challenges in our community have changed significantly since we opened that clinic (March 2021), and we are seeing things at this time that are reflective of that, both in the neighbourhood of the clinic as well as throughout other areas of the downtown core and scattered throughout other areas,” said Cameron.
She says the number of people needing to shelter outdoors and looking for places to spend their time has grown significantly since they opened the doors, making those services within reach of vulnerable people more important now than ever.
“Being downtown and within walking distance to other agencies allows clients easy access to health services,” she said.
“Since opening, OUH has provided medical and preventive services that meet the specific needs of the downtown population.”
Cameron says the clinic is saving lives.
Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas said in a statement he has met with business owners and shared many of their concerns and frustrations.
“I heard about staff who feel unsafe at times, the high cost of vandalism and theft, and stores that now keep their doors locked at times,” wrote Dyas.
“I heard that more needs to be done for those struggling with the effects of untreated and complex health, mental health and substance use issues.
“Most importantly, I heard that businesses want to work with us to see change. We all want a thriving, safe downtown core.”