Journey Home is working to ensure homeless people won't camp through winter again - InfoNews

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Journey Home is working to ensure homeless people won't camp through winter again

Journey Home chair Kyleen Myrah.
December 06, 2019 - 6:00 AM

While Kelowna remains the only major city in the province without an emergency winter shelter for the homeless, without Journey Home, the city might have nothing at all.

Journey Home – the society trying to essentially end homelessness in Kelowna by 2024 – recognized in early October that no one in the city was preparing for winter and took the lead that ultimately led to Tuesday’s announcement of a 40-bed “bridge” housing facility on Fuller Avenue.

“Journey Home has definitely been at the table and they were the convenor of the whole conversation in the beginning,” Sue Wheeler the city’s social development manager told iNFOnews.ca.

Journey Home’s mandate is to find long-term solutions to homelessness, not deal with the immediate need for a winter shelter, board chair Kyleen Myrah told iNFOnews.ca. But they saw a gap where no one else seemed to be talking about winter needs.

“Journey Home decided they would take the lead, early in the fall, to convene a conversation, together with partners, to determine what the solutions would be for the winter weather coming up,” Myrah said.

She defended others who didn't start the process sooner, pointing out that every winter is different and most communities have different needs and different operators for shelters each year.

It formed a committee of a couple of volunteers - Shane Worman and Debbie Hubbard - who worked to pull together all the appropriate agencies to talk about winter shelters for the homeless and try to find suitable locations.

Neither Wheeler nor Myrah would provide specific details of the numerous failed attempts to find a shelter but Mayor Colin Basran, in an earlier interview, pointed to one in early November that fell through because the landlord pulled out.

Pulling together the Fuller Avenue option was done quickly, given the increasing fire risk with the campers on Leon Avenue.

“Their (Journey Home’s) early work set the foundation for everyone working together,” Wheeler said.

Fuller is a City-owned building that was considered for use as a shelter earlier but was rejected because it was slated for demolition to make room for B.C. Housing-funded affordable housing, Wheeler said.

When they (Wheeler didn’t specify who “they” were) “circled back” and looked at it again, they found that Fuller could have some minor renovations and be used through the winter. Demolition is expected in April.

Last Tuesday, about 100 homeless people camping on Leon Avenue, were ordered to leave and offered camping space at two North End parks. They all chose to move to a ball diamond on Recreation Avenue.

The next day, B.C. Housing told iNFOnews.ca in an email, that the City of Kelowna “has not yet decided on a site for a new temporary shelter.” Wheeler said the decision on Fuller was made earlier than that but paperwork still had to be sorted out.

Two days later, B.C. Housing said the Fuller Avenue announcement was coming but embargoed any publication of that information until Tuesday.

In the meantime, there are 30 to 40 homeless people still sleeping in tents they have to put up and take down every day at the Recreation Avenue site and at least 10 more people are camped out in other parts of the city.

“Our role was to try to get people together early so we didn’t have a gap and a critical issue,” Myrah said. “We and everybody else have learned from this process and, I think, there will be lots of recommendations – that aren’t helpful right now for those people dealing with it – just to make sure that we never have that situation again.”

And, everyone involved realizes the 40 beds at Fuller are not adequate for the number of homeless that need shelter this winter — some estimates range to more than 100 sleeping outside this winter — so the work continues to find ways to create more shelter spaces.


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