B.C. Housing has funding and a place to launch its first mat location to house many of Kelowna's homeless population – many of whom are camped out on Leon Avenue in Kelowna – for the winter.
A meeting will be held between the operator and the property leaseholder tomorrow to finalize details on sheltering 40 men, women and couples until the end of March.
But, whether it can open by Friday, when funding starts, depends on some minor renovations, getting the mats and cots and staffing, Debbie Hubbard, a director of the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society helping develop this winter mat program, told iNFOnews.ca today, Oct. 29.
“The issue is staffing because, for a temporary winter shelter that’s only open three to five months, it’s very challenging for the operator to staff,” Hubbard said. “We’ll open as soon as we can.”
A “design lab” was held earlier this year with a number of agencies to look at what kind of emergency shelters were needed and what would work best, not only for the homeless but for the neighbourhoods where they’re located. A committee has been working hard since mid-September to get something up and running.
The first stage will be a winter shelter for about 40 people, selected through the B.C. Housing screening process. The hope is to have a food service there as well. Some will be able to sleep on cots, others on mats, Hubbard said.
The committee hopes to get three smaller sites for another 20-40 people and a separate “warming centre.”
Hubbard doesn’t know how many people are sleeping rough in Kelowna but RCMP officers forced 60 to 100 people off Leon Avenue last Friday. Many had been camping on the sidewalks for weeks, some in tents.
Bylaw officers are no longer stopping people from camping on the Leon Avenue sidewalks or looking for people camping in parks or other places such as the Rail Trail, Darren Caul, the city’s community safety director, said.
“Right now, I think people living without homes are more naturally gravitating on their own to the area of Leon,” he said. “We know they’re doing that for the sake of safety, food and community.”
Hubbard did not say where the shelters will be located but expects to have further announcements soon.
It will be up to the operator as to whether residents can use drugs on site but overdose kits will likely be available.
The committee working on the mat program – many of whom are volunteers like Hubbard – is looking for anyone with ideas on shelter, warming sites or staffing to offer suggestions.
The Journey Home web site is here.
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