Housing wait list shows depth of homelessness problem in Kelowna - InfoNews

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Housing wait list shows depth of homelessness problem in Kelowna

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March 08, 2018 - 11:00 AM

KELOWNA - If you want to quantify the problem of homelessness in Kelowna, here is one of the key comparables.

B.C. Housing’s supportive housing registry for the Central Okanagan has 1,200 names on its waiting list, each who would like to secure one of about 190 units that meet the provincial requirements for supportive housing.

And many of those on the waiting list are languishing in Kelowna’s short-term homeless shelters.

“It is a big number for a city this size and that doesn’t even represent the whole situation,” says Gaelene Askeland, who says there could be double that number of homeless in Kelowna, if you add in all those in precarious housing situations, couch-surfing and sleeping in their vehicles.

As executive director of the John Howard Society of the Central Okanagan, Askeland sits along with representatives from other local social service agencies on a committee that meets periodically and assigns supportive housing as it becomes available.

Those seeking shelter through the supportive housing registry must complete an application through B.C. Housing which vets them and scores them based on a vulnerability assessment.

Once accepted, the committee will then try to match people on the list with the housing units that become available, giving careful consideration to placing people where they will fit in and are most likely to succeed.

That also means the first on the list is not necessarily the first placed, although Askeland says they are conscious of the how long people have to wait.

“The list is always changing. People move on, they make other arrangements, they get tired of waiting,” she said

Unfortunately for Kelowna’s homeless, the committee isn’t that busy. “We can go months without having any turnover,” Askeland says.

Working together, Askeland says the city’s major social service agencies have been able to streamline the application process, ending the need for applicants to fill out the same housing application form at multiple agencies.

But streamlining the process has done nothing to increase the supportive housing supply, which must meet specific requirements, including the need in some cases for live-in support staff.

Many supportive housing clients have mental health and substance abuse problems, making their success finding housing in the mainstream rental market much more difficult, Askeland says.

B.C. Housing announced in January it is adding 55 units of modular housing to a site it owns on Commerce Street. However, installation of the units has not yet begun and no date for completion has been confirmed.

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