Formerly homeless Kelowna man doing well in supportive housing, says more needed | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Formerly homeless Kelowna man doing well in supportive housing, says more needed

Wayne, who has been living at Heath House for the last six months, says there's a need for supportive housing in Kelowna.
March 01, 2021 - 7:00 AM

A formerly homeless man who has lived on and off Kelowna’s streets since 2012 has finally found a home that he feels safe in.

Wayne, who asked to use his first name for safety concerns, is currently living in Heath House, a supportive housing unit managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Prior to that, he lived at Willowbridge, another supportive housing unit managed by the association.

The 53-year-old first experienced homelessness in 2012, and again in 2016 prior to living in supportive housing.

“Since I’ve been here it’s been really good,” Wayne said.

Heath House provides housing for people coming off the streets and out of shelters with mental health or substance abuse problems. Wayne has been there for the last six months. He enjoys playing crib and other card games with the staff. He said there’s a need for more supportive housing like Heath House in the community, which contrasts one resident’s experience back in 2019 when it first opened.

Tenants were evicted and neighbourhood security was bolstered following complaints about thefts and break-ins. One Heath House resident was concerned for his safety back in 2019 when life on the streets was brought into the complex.

READ MORE: Crime, drugs in Kelowna supportive housing complex failing those who want help, resident says

In Wayne's case, the support Heath House has provided has been instrumental to him curtailing his drug use.

“I got a lot of friends here, I give them their space and they give me my space… the staff here are awesome, they’re not afraid to play crib with me or spend time with me,” Wayne said.

A few years ago, he was using all kinds of drugs, to the point where he hit rock bottom, he said. Before moving to Kelowna in 2005, he lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Since living at Heath House, he said he’s using drugs less and no longer feels the need to collect bottles for money to get high.

Overall, the housing-first initiative implemented in 2017 by the Journey Home strategy has been successful, according to the strategy’s executive director.

Stephanie Ball, executive director for Journey Home, said housing-first initiatives have had a 90% success rate for residents, defined by them being able to maintain their tenancies and sustain their mental health, she said.

However, there’s more work to be done in the city to address homelessness. There are still roughly 300 people in Kelowna in need of housing, she said.

Journey Home has already met its intended targets ahead of the five-year plan, with 318 supportive housing units that have been opened in the city since the initiative’s launch, including 49 units that are set to open on McCurdy Road next month, Ball said. An additional 100 units have also been obtained within regular market housing like apartments for those in need.

The Journey Home strategy initially called for 300 units for people with support on-site for those with complex needs.

“It’s an incredible achievement, at the same time, we know the need keeps rising,” Ball said, referencing when she first became a part of Journey Home in 2019, at a time when homelessness on Leon Avenue's tent city was prominent in the community.

READ MORE: Kelowna responds to Leon Avenue tent city concerns

“To end homelessness, we need to focus on people that haven’t traditionally been prioritized for housing and we need to ensure we support government advocacy and investment around that,” she said.

There are 9,200 Kelowna rentals that are considered to be in the “core housing need” as people are spending 50% or more of their income on rent, she said.

“Poverty plays a big part in terms of our ability to mitigate and prevent homelessness. People… will experience homelessness even after we’ve reached our goal."

The idea is to have systems in place to identify those who are at-risk of becoming homeless and providing supports to help prevent that, she said.

Wayne said more supportive housing is needed in the city.

“I feel safe here,” he said. He appreciates the CMHA staff at both Willowbridge and Heath House, but said he's doing better in his current living situation because of his connection to Heath House staff.

Wayne said people are homeless in downtown Kelowna because of the current housing situation.

“A lot of my friends got kids, and some of them are homeless because they can’t afford it. They can’t afford rent,” he said.

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