KELOWNA - B.C. Housing has confirmed it is looking at possibly extending the contract of the seasonal emergency shelter it is funding on Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna.
B.C. Housing communications director Rajiv Rao said in email statement it is “working closely with the City of Kelowna and our community partners to find ways to ensure shelter during emergency weather conditions is available for those in the community who need it, including the possibility of extending the Cornerstone shelter.”
B.C. Housing opened the short-term cold weather shelter Nov. 31 in partnership with John Howard Society of the Central Okanagan. The low barrier shelter allows couples, pets, shopping carts. Drug and alcohol use does not disqualify admittance.
Executive director Gaelene Askeland said the shelter located in the former A&B Sound building on Leon Avenue filled up almost immediately and has stayed full throughout the winter. The society’s contract with B.C. Housing to run the shelter ends March 31.
It employs six on-site staff around the clock, 24 in all, who will also lose their jobs at the end of the month.
City of Kelowna director of community planning Doug Gilchrist said the city has no standing in the decision to extend the contract, although it is a very interested observer.
“We know having 70-odd people suddenly having no place to stay is not good, it would certainly have a detrimental effect on them,” he said. “What they are doing (with the building) is an allowable use. We don’t have any authority, it is an agreement between B.C. Housing and the landlord. There isn’t a regulatory role for the city in this although we are certainly a general partner in the area.”
Gilchrist said staff is having discussions with area businesses about the possibility of the contract being extended.
“We want to alleviate their concerns. They are obviously an important stakeholder in this,” Gilchrist said.
At the same time, Gilchrist said he’s not sure the Leon Avenue location is the right place, even if the contract is extended.
“We see that as a stop-gap solution and short term,” Gilchrist added. “Making sure people have safe secure place to live is the first priority. Longer term housing is the solution."
The closing of the shelter comes at a critical juncture in the multi-agency effort to drastically reduce street homelessness in Kelowna.
The Journey Home task force is set to present its recommendations in late June amidst a broader provincial drive to do something about surging homelessness in urban areas.
Meanwhile, B.C. Housing has begun installing modular housing in the Lower Mainland and across the province, including a 55-unit installation planned for Commerce Avenue in Kelowna.
Rao pointed to the project in his statement.
“We are committed to working with the city and our community partners to find more permanent housing options for those individuals, including the proposed supportive housing project on Commerce Avenue (sic).”
The Commerce Street installation was delayed when B.C. Housing pulled its form and character application to Kelowna council in early January after complaints from area businesses about the projects exterior look. A new application has not been submitted and B.C Housing would not confirm if when it would be.
It’s not clear how many of the Cornerstone shelter’s residents would be eligible to move into the new housing, once it is built. A supportive housing registry in Kelowna has 1,200 names on a waiting list, according to Askeland.
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