June 02, 2016 - 6:30 PM
NON-TRADITIONAL CLIENTS SHOWING UP IN INCREASING NUMBERS
KELOWNA - The rental housing shortage that’s plaguing the city is starting to spill over into local homeless shelters, operators say, with people they might not normally see showing up at their doors.
“It’s really getting to the point where people have no place to go,” NOW Canada executive director Liz Talbot says. “It’s getting more and more challenging to get people in any form of housing.”
NOW Canada, which operates both an emergency shelter and supportive housing for women, says her organization is stretched thin, serving both the more traditional homeless — those with mental health or substance abuse problems — and the working poor who simply can’t find affordable housing.
“I get people showing up in tears. The have nowhere to live and don’t know what to do. It’s the worst feeling when you have to tell them to fill out a form and we’ll see what we can do,” she says. “We ended up having a mom and her children staying at the shelter who simply had nowhere else to go. It’s better than being on the street but it’s not ideal.”
While stories abound of sky-high rents and small bidding wars in Kelowna, where the vacancy rate hovers around one per cent, Talbot says the situation is even more dire for those seeking low-income housing.
“The percentage of housing available for rent is one thing, the percentage of low-income housing that’s available is another thing all together."
At the Kelowna Gospel Mission, the frontline shelter for men, outreach manager Chris Moffat hears similar stories all the time.
“We have a bunch of people right now who actually hold full-time jobs but they either can’t afford housing or it’s simply not available,” Moffat says. “They are absolutely at a disadvantage trying to find housing when they don’t have a lot of money to begin with.”
Moffat says his clients will scan rental classifieds every week but it’s usually a fruitless search.
“This is a bit of a stab in the dark but I would say about a third of my personal clients have no barriers (such as addiction or mental health problems) except income and availability,” he says.
“I had one guy look at a place who happened to say to a landlord he thought the place was a bit pricey. The guy looked at him and said fine, don’t take it, I’ll rent it to a dentist tomorrow."
He hesitates to blame greedy landlords for what he readily calls a rental crisis.
“It’s what the market will bear. It’s the launching point for new landlords. They hear that’s what the rents are so that’s where they start."
Moffat says the 96-bed Gospel Mission topped out at 113 clients a couple of weeks ago but have yet to turn anyone away.
“The only thing that will prevent someone from staying in the shelter is dangerous behaviour,” he says. “Otherwise we’ll put mats on the floor."
Contrary to what some might think, Moffat says just over 50 per cent of clients use the shelter for less than 48 hours.
“The majority aren’t here long and for the most part, they never come back,” he says. “Most people have their crisis, but then access family and friends and go on to be housed.”
Still, Moffat says the larger lack of affordable housing in Kelowna has contributed to the surge in transient camps bylaw officers have reported in the last year.
Find more Kelowna rental housing stories here.
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