Kelowna taxpayers spent roughly $1 million dealing with homelessness last year | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna taxpayers spent roughly $1 million dealing with homelessness last year

Sweeping the Leon Avenue sidewalks was just part of the $1 million plus it cost to deal with the homeless in Kelowna in 2019.

The hundreds of homeless people on the streets of Kelowna and in shelters cost local taxpayers at least $1 million in 2019, although the city will not tally all the actual costs. has been trying to obtain detailed figures from the city since mid-November in an effort to find out what it’s costing taxpayers to take on a function that is not directly the city’s responsibility.

Some information was provided but was told this week that further cost breakdowns of staff time that is spent on homelessness will not be provided.

“As an organization we’re focused on addressing issues and delivering services to citizens of Kelowna,” Darren Caul, the city’s community safety director said. “Methodologically, to go back in time to understand how much, let’s say RCMP and fire (department) time, would require significant analysis at great expense in order to come up with accurate figures on the cost of homelessness in 2019.”

Caul, for example, spent a lot of his time in recent weeks dealing with the logistics of relocating the Leon Avenue homeless tent city to Recreation Avenue, but did not specify how much of his time is spent strictly on homelessness.

What we do know is the city has one full time staff member – Social Development Manager Sue Wheeler – working exclusively on homelessness. Wheeler’s 2018 salary and expenses totalled just over $100,000. That does not include benefits.

She also had a part-time staff member working for her. The city is hiring a Social Development Coordinator this year at almost $84,000.

The city also estimated that bylaw officers spent 6,615 hours dealing with issues surrounding homelessness – such as a Community Response Unit, Leon Avenue clean-ups and transient park patrols. Bylaw officers earn around $75,000 to $90,000 per year. Taking a mid-range salary of $42 per hour, that total cost is close to $280,000 – and that’s just until mid-November.

Caul said that number is probably similar to previous years and noted that two full-time bylaw officers were hired in 2005 just to deal with homelessness. Their time would account for about 4,000 hours per year.

In 2019 the city paid $64,000 into the Downtown Kelowna Association’s base budget for its clean-up team. It added $75,000 to fund another member and equipment for peak times of the year.

That was not all used for cleaning up after the homeless but, especially after the homeless were allowed to camp on Leon Avenue, money was spent by the clean-up team on that street five days a week.

The city also contributed $150,000 towards the Journey Home society that is trying to bring Kelowna to functionally zero homelessness within another four years.

Once the homeless were relocated to the Recreation Avenue and Knox Mountain campgrounds, Caul estimated the hard costs for things like warming tents, toilets, security and garbage disposal was $4,000 to $4,500 per day Caul told in December. He clarified his comments this week to say that was the cost when the campsite was at its peak, for about two weeks, so the total cost was likely below $100,000. All those bills are not in yet.

What’s not included was the cost of extra security patrols that started in the fall of 2018 as former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon was drafting his report on crime in downtown Kelowna. But, at that time, he reported that the extra patrols had cost $100,000 for part of the year.

That totals about $835,000 but does not include the time City workers, fire department staff and RCMP officers spent dealing with the homeless. The city pays 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP.

"Over the course of 2019, when you factor in everyone’s time, as well as the hard costs, was more than a million spent?" Caul said. "I think that would be a fair number."

In 2020, the city has approved close to $500,000 for homeless-related issues. That includes the social development coordinator and $100,000 for what is still being called Leon Avenue clean-up, so those are not totally new costs.

Other budget items have titles such as “provision of shelter services” ($100,000), “housing for those with complex needs ($100,000) and “supportive housing community inclusion" ($75,000).

So, why are city taxpayers picking up this bill when, as Caul makes it clear, “housing, addictions and mental health are mandates of the provincial government.”

While under provincial jurisdiction, those issues impact the city, he said.

“Citizens have indicated this is a high priority for our community and it’s identified as a high priority for our city council as well,” Caul said. “So, as a city, we have not only a vested interest but we do have a role to play as it relates to addressing these issues at the local level. In large part that is about advocating for the changes we need with our provincial counterparts and then working with our provincial counterparts to achieve those outcomes. So, right now, our focus is on addressing the day-to-day issues that come with people who are sheltering outside and some of the complaints that arise from the community in relation to those folks.”

And “sheltering outside” is still an issue even with last week’s opening of the Welcome Inn emergency winter shelter.

There are still one to eight people camping in the two campgrounds every night – mostly at Recreation Avenue - and a total of about 60 people still considered to be homeless, even though they may not all be sleeping outside, Caul said.

Those 60, when added to the 250 people living in the five shelters currently operating, total about 310 people. That means, at $1 million per year, the city is spending more than $3,225 per year per homeless person.

The City's overall budget is roughly $550 million. 

BREAKDOWN OF KNOWN COSTS (Does not include RCMP, Kelowna Fire Department, security or other staff costs)

  • $100,000, full-time staff member
  • $40,000, part-time staff member
  • $280,000, bylaw officers’ time
  • $150,000, Journey Home
  • $90,000, Recreation Avenue
  • $75,000, Downtown Kelowna Association
  • $100,000, extra private security patrols

$835,000, Total 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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