Leon Avenue homeless shelter puts visible dent in Kelowna street scene - InfoNews

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Leon Avenue homeless shelter puts visible dent in Kelowna street scene

Gaelene Askeland, executive director of the John Howard Society of the Central Okanagan, stands outside the Cornerstone homeless shelter on Leon Avenue in Kelowna, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.
February 02, 2018 - 4:02 PM

KELOWNA - Cornerstone on Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna is halfway through its temporary mandate as a low-barrier homeless shelter of last resort.

And while some of the shelter’s neighbours don’t much like it, there’s no denying the 80-odd residents would be gracing Kelowna’s streets if it were not available.

“All our shelters are full. The Gospel Mission is full. Alexandra Gardner is full. Inn from the Cold is full,” John Howard executive director Gaelene Askeland says. “Just do the math."

Since opening at the end of November, Askeland says the shelter has seen twice the anticipated demand and is now operating at full capacity with 80 people sleeping on mats spread out on the ground floor of the old A&B Sound building.

Cornerstone operates around-the-clock, with 45 paid staff, six for each eight-hour shift, Askeland says, and includes a diverse mix of nurses, first responders, students and even former homeless people.

Unlike other shelters, Cornerstone allows couples to stay together, tolerates pets and has a place to park shopping carts. And the mats clients sleep on are theirs to keep, at least until the shelter closes in March.

It is a wet facility which doesn’t evict residents if drunk or high. In fact, the facility operates a discrete safe consumption site for IV drug users which Askeland says has saved several residents from overdose.

One resident named Sylvain, who asked his last name not be used, said the shelter is a haven for people who do not fit into the regulatory constrictions of other places.

Sylvain has been living in Kelowna for 10 years and says he works part-time but concedes his own struggles with addiction and the extreme cost of renting in Kelowna have left him homeless.

Without Cornerstone, Sylvain said he would likely to be sleeping on the street or vying for one of a limited number of beds at the Kelowna Gospel Mission.

A homeless shelter is never going to be anyone’s picture of the ideal neighbour but Askeland says they get along well with most of the businesses on the street, likely made easier by the ongoing efforts to keep the front of the building clean and tidy.

Residents are allowed to stay inside all day if they chose, which cuts down on the visible homeless loitering on the street with overflowing shopping carts.

“At the end of the day, we are trying to keep them alive through winter and we feel like we’re doing that quite successfully,” Askeland says.

Funding for Cornerstone is wholly provided by B.C. Housing, Askeland says, and will expire at the end of March.

She’s not sure what will happen to the residents then.

“Some will go back to the street, some will go back to the Gospel Mission, others will move on,” Askeland says.

As for next season, she’s hoping the city’s Journey Home task force — she’s a sitting member — will have presented its final plan and began to make a dent in the number of street homeless.

"Maybe we won't need it by then," she says.

The task force is to present its operational plan to Kelowna city council in June.

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