KELOWNA - Kelowna will conduct its first homeless count in several years and Randy Benson, executive director of the Kelowna Gospel Mission, is certain it will verify what local service providers already know — homelessness has surged in the last year.
As the city’s front line homeless shelter, the Kelowna Gospel Mission will be ground zero, both as a place to start counting and as a source of volunteers to conduct the point-in-time count itself.
Some of Benson’s staff will be serving as leaders for the survey teams that will fan out across downtown, counting people in the shelters but also checking for people in nooks and crannies in back alleys and further afield in known transient camps.
Respect is key, Benson says, when reaching out to people who don’t necessarily want to be reached.
“Our outreach workers know how to aproach them, know how to talk to them,” he adds.
Kelowna is one of 30 urban areas across Canada selected for the count, funded under the federal homelessness partnering strategy, a program of Employment and Social Development Canada.
The Central Okanagan Foundation will organize and supervise the count locally, as it did the last time a homeless count was taken in Kelowna.
The survey teams, made up of volunteers from the Gospel Mission and other local non-profit organizations, will be seeking basic demographic information such as age and gender over a 24-hour period in the last two weeks of February.
The exact date is kept confidential so as not to skew the survey results.
What sets it apart from the last survey, Benson says, is it will be conducted using a template provided by the federal government, providing local numbers but also comparing them with communities on a national level.
“Last time we did it just for ourselves here in Kelowna. I think it will give a more complete picture of what homelessness means across the country,” Benson adds. “It will also help if we can do it again in two years and compare the numbers using the same methodolgy.”
He hopes the new data will also serve to convince anyone who doubts there’s been a recent surge in street homelessness, if the Gospel Mission’s own experience isn’t enough.
“We know our own numbers are up and from what I hear, so is everyone else,” Benson says. He's chairperson of the community advisory board made up of representatives from local social agencies and service providers.
The board has already met with representatives from the City of Kelowna concerning its plan to hire a homelessness coordinator this spring.
Benson hopes whoever lands in the job will have fresh data to tackle what has proven to be a persistent problem in Kelowna despite previous efforts.
He applauds Kelowna council for confronting the problem head on and believes the coordinated community effort will produce better results than having different non-governmental organizations left to work on their own.
“It’s been shown elsewhere that whenever the local government gets involved, the results are positive,” Benson says.
More on homelessness in Kelowna.
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