KELOWNA - When Kelowna’s new homeless coordinator is hired sometime this spring, they will find themselves working with a system that local service providers say is bursting at the seams.
NOW Canada’s executive director Liz Talbot says the non-profit society’s 20-bed womens shelter has been running well over capacity for months now, even before the weather turned for the worse.
“We used to get dips but it’s just constant now,” Talbot says of the shelter that is equipped to provide 600 bed nights per month but regularly provides as much as 720. “We’ve only been under 20 a night a handful of times.”
The waiting list for the society’s 60-bed Tutt Street apartments — affordable housing for women with or without children — has also stretched to surreal proportions.
“There’s always been a wait list but it’s huge now,” she says.
The new homeless coordinator will find a system that is need of resources in all areas, from front line shelters at or above capacity to decent transition housing to affordable rental housing once a person has moved beyond initial recovery, Talbot says.
“We’ve seen seniors with terminal illnesses in addiction who have had to live out their final days in a shelter,” Talbot says. “We have seen increases in use in all areas of the continuum of care and the clients themselves are becoming more complex with issues of mental illness.”
Those are the problems Talbot says the new homeless coordinator will bring back to Kelowna city council, which is pushing for the adoption of the housing first model, where housing is provided first and foremost and recovery done later.
She supports the housing first model but only as one approach to be used amongst others.
“Housing first isn’t for everybody. There’s some people I see who would be a fantastic fit for housing first. Others need to go a different route. It should be part of a continuum of care."
Housing first, Talbot explains, is resource-intensive, and resources are something not a lot of agencies have to spare right now.
“You need everything in place before you start. If you’re putting vulnerable people in a house, they may need assistance any time of the day or night. If this person is in crisis at three a.m. you can’t say, ‘see you in the morning.’ Just giving them a house is useless because they’re not going to be able to maintain that housing on their own.”
Talbot says the community advisory board on homelessness, chaired by Randy Benson of the Kelowna Gospel Mission, has already met with representatives from the city to discuss the role of the homelessness coordinator.
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