Kelowna hotel reports dramatic rise in problems since opening of nearby homeless complex

Pete Gehrke is a manager at the Super 8 Hotel in Kelowna near Highway 97 and Commerce Avenue.

He and other staffers are not liking what they’re seeing in and around the hotel these days.

“We’ve had a lot more unsolicited guests here coming onto the property,” Gehrke told Global News.

Gehrke noticed the increase in trespassers since a supportive housing complex for the homeless opened down the road two months ago.

“It has picked up substantially,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of altercations with people on the property. When we try to tell them they are trespassing, we need them to leave, they become quite belligerent.”

Hearthstone is a 46-unit modular building that opened at the beginning of November, providing housing for some of the city’s homeless population.

READ MORE: Kelowna’s newest supportive housing complex about to welcome homeless tenants

Gehrke says while many of the tenants are fine, some, along with others, who are hanging out in the area are causing big problems.

“We’ve experienced people coming around the middle of the night, banging on the doors, asking for cigarettes and money,” he said. “I’ve had several attempts to break into the maintenance shed, we’ve had people coming into the breakfast room helping themselves to breakfast, we’ve had a couple come shoot heroin in our bathroom.”

When asked how sure he is that these problems are linked to Hearthstone, Gehrke said he’s gone as far as tracking where the people are coming and going from.

“I have followed people off the property and watched them walk into Hearthstone,” he said.

In early December, Global News spoke with a number of other nearby business operators who reported little to no problems.

READ MORE: Business operators say nearby homeless housing complex not causing any major issues

Gehrke said that’s probably because a hotel is a different kind of business.

“I think with a lot of the neighbors, they’re a different business. They close at five, they’re not open 24 hours and there’s not a lot there to attract these people,” he said. “Here, we have cigarettes, people leave their ashtray out on a sill with their butts in them; these are all attractants.”

Hearthstone is operated by the John Howard Society.

In a phone call, executive director Gaelene Askeland told Global News she was unaware of the problems the hotel was experiencing, adding the news was distressing.

She also said that a community advisory committee would be forming very soon.

The committee will be made up of stakeholders, including the John Howard Society, B.C. Housing, Interior Health Authority, RCMP, city bylaw and neighboring businesses.

The committee will meet regularly to discuss concerns and work on solutions.

Meantime, the Super 8 Hotel is beefing up security to try and alleviate some of the problems.

“We’re looking at spending thousands to fence off the property, put a security fence around the property, we’re upgrading all our camera systems . . . to mitigate some of the stuff that’s going on,” he said.

Gehrke wanted to also point out that he’s not against Hearthstone and doesn’t want them to leave. He’s just looking for solutions that will allow neighbors to co-exist with fewer problems.

“I have empathy for these people. I come from a background in my younger days where I had some of the same problems they experience,” he said. “I think it’s great that they’re there and doing a service for the community, getting some of these people off the streets.”

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