Kelowna is building a tiny home village in its North End neighborhood for homeless residents
The City of Kelowna, British Columbia, is converting a vacant lot in the city’s North End neighborhood into a 60-unit tiny home village as part of an initiative to provide temporary housing for people living on the streets.
Kelowna announced the location of the tiny house project this week, having signed an agreement with the province last month to bring a total of 120 new temporary housing units to the city this winter.
The small main village site is receiving a mix of reactions from the area’s business community, with some expressing frustration and concerns about the safety of the project’s future residents. The city plans to put the tiny homes on a city-owned lot at 759 Crowley Ave. In Kelowna’s North End industrial neighbourhood.
People who live in a nearby homeless encampment along the Okanagan Railroad applaud the initiative and its location, but say it should have been built before winter.
A poster from the City of Kelowna depicts what the tiny homes will look like once they are completed. (CBC)
Each supportive housing unit is 60 square feet and has a bed, a wardrobe, and access to shared bathroom and kitchen facilities, according to Housing Minister Rafi Kahlon, who announced the project last month.
The single and duplex units are manufactured by a company in Washington state and can be assembled in less than an hour, according to Mayor Tom Dias.
The nonprofit will provide meals and skills training to help residents navigate the housing system, according to the city.
“This is an innovative approach that brings quick and meaningful action to our community,” Dias said in a written statement.
“This addresses housing gaps, helps people move into safe and dignified shelter, and ultimately reduces the number of individuals sheltering outside.”
Construction is expected to be completed in early 2024, according to the city, with a second 60-unit model housing project to follow at a different location.
Debbie Hotaling and Garth Gorrell have been living in a tent in Kelowna for the past two years with their dog Kismet. (Brady Strachan/CBC)
In 2021, Kelowna designated an area of land along the Okanagan Rail Trail as an overnight shelter site. Since then, the number of homeless camps has increased, with more than 100 people living there in tents.
The new cottage village will be located across the road from the camp entrance.
“This is a good place for that,” said Garth Gorrell, who has been living in a tent with his wife, Debbie Houghtaling, for more than two years. “It’s time for us to help.”
However, the couple questioned the timing of the project, noting that a cold snap hit Kelowna in December of last year.
“It has to be faster. People will get cold and sick,” Hotaling said. “I had pneumonia twice last year, and I’ve already had it once this year.”
“It’s not the right place”
The reactions of people working on the other side of the vacant plot of land, opposite the village site, were mixed.
Jimmy Schmidt, Ace Courier sales manager, said the City of Kelowna informed his company just hours before it announced the location of the social housing project.
“We feel bad about it. I mean, we’re not against homelessness at all, you know, and if they need a place to stay, sure, but it’s not the right place,” Schmidt said, adding that his company has had break-in problems since establishing the nearby encampment.
He also questioned the decision to place the project on a plot of land at a busy intersection in the industrial district.
“We’re just concerned about (the new residents’) safety because we have trucks coming in all the time,” Schmidt said.
“They’re right next to us. You don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Restaurateur Keith Dyke supports the tiny house supportive housing complex as a way to bring people into homes in Kelowna. He says he needs the right support from the city so it doesn’t impact nearby businesses. (Brady Strachan/CBC)
A few doors away, restaurateur Keith Dick, who owns Okanagan Street Food, said he also found out about the project just hours before it was announced.
“I wish we could have at least had a discussion that, you know, maybe as business owners in the area we could help with ideas on how to manage this properly and what our concerns are,” Dick said.
“We all deserve to be warm”
Regardless, Dyke said that as long as the site is managed properly, he supports the project, adding that his company provides hot soup and food to people living in the camp as a way to “pay it forward.”
“We all deserve to be warm and protected, with bathroom facilities,” Dick said.
“There is a possibility that this could impact our business, and if managed properly, it won’t. There’s no reason to be afraid of homeless people. They’re all human and we all bleed red. We have to make sure we’re not looking at what “It is beyond that.”
According to the city, the Little Home Village will have 24-hour staff and individuals moving into the new homes will be evaluated and matched with support services.
A recent census found 297 people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna, compared to other inner cities like Vernon (224), Penticton (206), and Penticton (114).