Homeless shelter operators in Okanagan, Kamloops tired of gov't downloading, inaction
Homeless shelter operators in Kamloops and the Okanagan are frustrated by the wait for a permanent solution to the "rundown" and "overcrowded" buildings that have been in use for months or years.
The non-profit organizations have sent a letter to city councils across the region saying they are fed up with the temporary fixes each year. They are calling on municipal governments, B.C. Housing and the Interior Health Authority to step up amid an "unrealized promise" of year-round shelters and the downloading of health-care responsibilities on shelter operators.
"For the past several years, the response has been to set up winter mat shelter programs. Many operators have already been asked if we can step up again to run temporary winter shelter programs. This year, many of the operators in Vernon, Penticton, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Merritt and Kamloops are saying no more," an open letter signed by six non-profit groups reads.
They are decrying slow and ineffective action from government and are tired of taking the brunt of criticism for street-level crime.
"Operators are running shelters in rundown buildings, in overcrowded rooms and in temporary structures in part because some municipalities in the region have lacked the political will or courage to build permanent, purpose-built shelters and additional supportive housing," the letter reads.
"We are not responsible for the reality of homelessness, unpredictable behaviour and the burgeoning mental health crisis; and yet, we have policy makers, politicians, businesses, and journalists holding us responsible to speak to why the people facing homelessness on the street are behaving badly and why we’re not doing more."
The "call for action letter" is signed by executives from ASK Wellness Society, John Howard Society of Okanagan and Kootenay, Penticton and District Society for Community Living, Kelowna Gospel Mission, Turning Points Collaborative Society and Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society.
Although not listed on the letter, Canadian Mental Health Association executive director in Kamloops, Alfred Achoba, expressed his frustrations with ongoing reliance on temporary shelters last week.
CMHA has been the primary shelter provider in Kamloops in recent years, but this year, the organization backed out of the winter shelter program. The Kamloops emergency shelters are placed in vacant, unused buildings, like a Spirit Halloween.
He called it a "bandaid" fix, and Achoba wants CMHA to focus on long term housing, instead.
"We're being used as a dumping ground," he said. "People average two years in shelter at the moment. I don't think that's fair."
The Journey Home Society in the Central Okanagan is also scrambling to find enough staff to open all of its shelter beds, but it can only currently fill a 60-bed shelter on Bay Avenue halfway. The amount of people needing emergency shelter is also increasing.
“However, the demand for shelter continues to grow faster than new spaces are becoming available, and that means we will have people sheltering outdoors this winter," executive director Stephanie Gauthier said in a recent news release.
The open letter included ten recommendations to alleviate the pressure of homelessness and the toxic drug crisis.
It's top suggestions are to coordinate services from health-care and housing providers to ensure people are moved out of shelters and into supportive housing more quickly.
CMHA Kamloops, for example, has about 300 to 400 people on its wait list to move into supportive housing, according to Achoba.
The letter includes a recommendation to push drug policy passed decriminalization and on to safe, regulated supply.
"The poisoned drug crisis is wreaking havoc on communities and families, brain injury from repeated overdose is common, and escalated, unpredictable behaviours from these drugs compromise public safety," it reads.
As non-profits express frustrations with temporary shelters and call for more action on long-term plans, homeless people are facing the cold breath of winter.
The Loop in Kamloops, which is not officially authorized to operate a shelter, opened its doors to the homeless last night.
It took in 25 people ranging from 19 to 79 years old on Nov. 3, according to The Loop's service coordinator Glenn Hilke.
He's grown frustrated with the simple fact Kamloops planned for two shelters this winter that have no official operator and haven't opened their doors. They were supposed to open on Nov. 1.
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