KELOWNA - Admitting it’s out of touch with current community efforts to combat homelessness, Kelowna city council is hoping to jump into a leadership role by hiring a homeless coordinator and adopting a new, more direct housing strategy.
The initiative comes amid signs of increased homelessness in Kelowna, including a doubling in the number of homeless camps dealt with by city bylaw officers this year.
“We have certainly noticed an increase of transients and homeless,” Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says. “Even if that hadn’t happened though, you would have seen us do this."
Community policing coordinator Colleen Cornock suggests in a report to council that it adopt the so-called housing first model, a low-barrier housing program with no preconditions.
Housing first is aimed at chronic homeless people, those who have slept outside or in a shelter for more than half the previous year, but also episodic homeless people, those who have experienced three or more periods of homelessness within the previous year.
Cornock contrasts that approach, sometimes called rapid re-housing, with the more traditional continuum of care model, based on emergency shelters and transitional housing, accessed through outreach and referral of services.
Housing first has been adopted in other Canadian communities such as Medicine Hat, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kamloops and is in various stages of implementation.
Basran is a firm believer in the housing first model and says the new homelessness coordinator will be tasked with identifying the gaps amongst current service providers in establishing housing first in Kelowna.
“How can anybody be expected to to get back on their feet if their only concern is where they are going to sleep that night? That trumps everything else,” Basran says. "You cannot make a conscious decision to turn your life around if you don’t feel safe at night or have a place to call home."
The mayor says the city may want to focus the grant money it now gives out to numerous social agencies on fewer applicants and those which are more in line with the new housing model.
“We are a large granter of funds. This is no criticism of the social agencies but we may prefer to have it more targeted so we get more significant impact,” Basran says.
The mayor is also expecting to see more baseline data on the homeless situation in Kelowna.
“When people say how is homelessness in Kelowna, I want to be able to point to statistics and measurable goals - where we are, how we are doing, how can we improve.”
The city hopes to access funding from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, a $600-million federal program which is focused on housing first initiatives.
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