Shelter says increased crime in West Kelowna not related to homeless

Emmanual Assembly Church in West Kelowna is defending its shelter after a city staff report suggested it was partially to blame for an increase in homeless people and crime.

The report, presented to council on Tuesday, provides an overview of the challenges city staff have encountered with crime within the Town Centre area such as vandalism, defecation and broken glass. It further states the shelter is a draw for transient people and, according to the RCMP, has increased criminal elements within the area which is an unfortunate spinoff of the church’s well intended efforts.

But Sean Airth, Program Coordinator at Emmanual Church Cold Weather Shelter says that behaviour just doesn't fit with the people that stay there.

“Our guests are very respectful, very polite, quite frequently they help us do the dishes, set up beds, that type of thing, they’re always looking out for one another and for staff,” he says “and we’ve had only one incidence of vandalism at the shelter in the entire time that we’ve been open and that was a very isolated incident”

The shelter, which operates overnight from November to March, is in its second year of operation and is funded by BC Housing.

Airth says the shelter is fulfilling a need and hopes to eventually expand the shelters availability.

“We currently have a maximum capacity of 15 people and we raised that capacity from 10 people, which is where we were last year, after having to turn people away just about every night,” he says “and we’re still being maxed out at 15 people every night”

During the council meeting, Mayor Doug Findlater acknowledged some of the issues can't be blamed solely on the homeless, but added the good intentions of the church are causing some grief and that they would have to be part of the solution.

The church will be presenting to councillors at council's next meeting to discuss the issue and to ask for future funding.

City staff are expected to present another report to council in the near future on how the city can address the increased crime.