KELOWNA – It’s a Friday afternoon and Tex Weatherbee has a problem: It’s -7 C outside the Gospel Mission on Leon Ave and he doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight.
Weatherbee, 42, has been homeless for ten years and doesn’t flinch at the thought of sleeping outside, even in the cold. Of course it’s better inside, but he says he was just banned for 24 hours from the Gospel Mission for arguing with staff. It was one of the few places in Kelowna where he can spend the night legally.
His usual option was removed last week when Kelowna City Council passed a bylaw restricting sleeping and even sitting on public sidewalks 24/7.
He would normally sleep in a doorway or a bank vestibule; anything to block the wind and provide a little security.
“It’s about survival,” he says.
He smokes a cigarette as he contemplates his options for the night, which will approach -10 C. He says he's not worried about the bylaw and doesn’t mind the cold.
"I'm from the east coast," he says.
He was expecting to sleep downstairs at the Gospel Mission on a mat with clean sheets and blankets. His plan now is to find a quiet place to set up his sleeping bag and store his bike. He's lost seven bikes to theft in two years.
The Gospel Mission provides an early breakfast of bread, peanut butter and jam seven days a week and often there are eggs and another protein but food isn't a problem.
“Housing is always more of an issue than the food. I eat at the (Gospel) Mission but even if you’re barred you can always get a sandwich at the hospital.”
The Gospel Mission and Inn from the Cold both allow clients to stay overnight and use their facilities. When the weather drops below freezing, it’s almost mandatory under the Cold Weather Protocol. Beds are set up on floors so everyone has a warm place to sleep.
The protocol gives police and bylaw the ability to do what it takes even detaining anyone they feel is in danger of freezing.
Three days later, Tex is back outside the Gospel Mission. Now there’s nearly a foot of snow on the ground and it’s even colder.
This time he is talking loudly with two police officers who are working the street.
Tex is originally from the east coast but moved to Kelowna with his wife years ago. She died in 2011 from breast cancer and now he keeps to himself most of the time.
“I have a lot of acquaintances, but I try not to get too close. It’s too emotionally overwhelming,” he says. “When they die.”
His days are spent finding what he needs. When he can stay at the Gospel Mission, he is up with everyone else at 6 a.m. to fight for a place in line for the bathroom, otherwise….
“Go to the parking lot and find a discreet corner,” he says.
He might hang around out front for breakfast or start his day looking for bottles and cans or bicycle parts to scavenge.
“Recycled bikes out of dumpsters, if I see an old bike I’ll offer to work for the parts I need,” he says.
So what did he end up doing Friday night? Hard to tell.
When asked, he shouts loud enough for many to hear that he slept on the street, like he said he would.
“Where else am I going to go!”
As he walks off back inside the Gospel Mission, one of the police officers shrugs. He heard Tex’s shouts and when he’s gone he shakes his head and expresses his doubts that he slept outside.
It’s possible Tex escaped the notice of police, bylaw, any other emergency responder or any concerned citizen who might report a man sleeping in freezing temperatures.
If any of them did find him, he could be taken, against his will if necessary, to Inn from the Cold and a warm place to spend the night.
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