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Action needed immediately on Kelowna homeless shelters

Jan Schulz, the executive director of Inn from the Cold, is pictured in this submitted photo.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Inn From the Cold
November 27, 2018 - 3:30 PM

KELOWNA - The city cannot wait until the New Year to start looking for a shelter to replace Cornerstone, says the author of a report on crime and homelessness in Kelowna

Former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon spoke to from Kelowna Airport today, Nov. 27, and urged the city to take immediate action on this issue.

Cornerstone is a homeless shelter that is operated by the John Howard Society and was opened on Leon Avenue Nov. 30, 2017 with 80 beds. It’s known as a “low barrier” facility, meaning drugs can be used under supervision on site. It’s about three blocks from the long-established Gospel Mission shelter.

“Cornerstone was a crisis decision that had to be made,” McKinnon said. “People were going to freeze to death. There was no planning.”

The facility is due to be closed by the end of March. Given the failure of the Inn from the Cold shelter to find a new site, it will be no easy task to find a new location for Cornerstone.

“You have no idea how hard it is to find anybody that will rent or lease to BC Housing for a shelter,” McKinnon said.

Most of his 26 recommendations to city council on how to deal with crime and homelessness in Kelowna will be reviewed by city staff that is to report back to council some time next year.

“I really think they (city council) want to be involved with shelters, because they can’t afford another reoccurrence of what took place with Cornerstone,” he said.

With so many shelters and facilities for the homeless clustered so close together on Leon Avenue, crime has gone up and businesses have been frustrated. McKinnon doesn’t expect businesses to tolerate an extension to the Cornerstone lease.

“I don’t want to fault Cornerstone,” he said. “I want to fault density. We need to have shelters but we need to space them out.

McKinnon said action was needed immediately on Cornerstone but the 45 beds at Inn From the Cold shelter might not need to be replaced because recent supportive housing projects should ease the demand.

That’s not the view taken by Inn from the Cold executive director Jan Schulz in a news release issued today.

Its lease has been extended one week into January, instead of having to close Dec. 31. It was originally scheduled to close Sept. 30 after its lease ran out but has had a number of extensions.

“With all city shelters at capacity despite some homeless having moved to supportive housing, we see no way to prevent having to turn people out onto the streets come Dec. 31,” Schulz wrote in the release.

Ironically, the City of Kelowna appears to have prevented its re-location.

“Even when a willing landlord with suitable space was found, City of Kelowna and BC Housing fears about community backlash prevented the Inn from capitalizing on an opportunity to lease new space” the release states.

“Sadly, the criteria the new location would need to meet pretty much eliminates any and all opportunities,” Schulz wrote. “At the end of the day, and despite all the talk, it seems no one has an appetite to give a hand up to Kelowna’s most vulnerable. And, while the Journey Home strategy may offer options longer term, solutions are needed now to get people off the streets and into programs that can help them get back on their feet.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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