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More seniors and addicts being seen by Okanagan outreach workers

JoAnne McKenzie, an outreach worker for Kelowna's Gospel Mission, stops to talk to some members of Kelowna's homeless community.
Image Credit: Kelowna's Gospel Mission
September 18, 2019 - 12:54 PM

KELOWNA - When Clary Lausnes and her husband started All Are Family unofficially five years ago, they were doing community outreach and handing out blankets, food and advice to people in Armstrong to West Kelowna.

They found ample demand and Clary found a calling.

“I am an ex-street kid, with a long history of abuse and it’s an obsession,” she said.“I can’t, not help people.”

Clary has helped people consumed by addiction, women in abusive relationships, children facing neglect — you name it, she’s tried to help.

“I can’t save everyone but if I can save one or two, that’s good,” she said.

While it used to be a roaming outreach, she and her husband set up a brick and mortar spot in Winfield in 2017 for their supplies and some people have started to go in and pick up what they need. It’s a small operation, and not intended to be a food bank, though it feels like it some days.

From their perch, they’ve seen waves of need ebb and flow. In recent days, however, it’s been a tsunami of demand.

“We’ve had a drastic increase of new people coming here to Winfield, and drastic increase to the other areas we go,” she said.

Where they used to help 20 to 30 people on a day between the outreach shop and through their drive-arounds, they now see more than 100.

“Just this summer, we have seen a marked increase of people with no money for food,” she said.

While many of the people coming through are addicted to drugs and facing mental health issues, there are others that Clary said are less visible but struggling just as hard.

“We have a pair of seniors in an old rundown RV come in today and they have nothing,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of seniors who would be too embarrassed to go to the food bank, coming here for supplies. Here, they don’t feel intimidated or judged.”

While Clary can’t offer solutions for the problems at hand, she’s happy to create a no-barrier space for people to come through and find a little solace in what must otherwise be a difficult day.

The operation, like others, however, is in need.

“We are completely not funded,” she said. “Nobody gets paid here. We pay hydro at the building here. And all of our funds go back into buying groceries.”

She feels lucky that the community donates as much as they do, though she’s faced shortages of fresh vegetables in recent days and has turned to social media for a top-up.

“I’d say we get $8,000 in food and cash donated, a year, but we’re struggling to stay in place,” she said, adding if there's someone who would like to donate, they can be contacted through their Facebook page here.

There are no new numbers to nail down how homelessness has increased in the last year, though the Lausneses aren't the only ones who have seen an uptick.

Mike Morrison, the Gospel Mission’s director of development, recently said he’s been told from the mission’s frontline workers, there’s change afoot.

“I think there are just a lot more homeless people in Kelowna this year,” he said. “I think it’s a new trend.”

The Central Okanagan Foundation’s point-in-time homelessness count was conducted on March 6, 2018, and volunteers counted 286 men and women experiencing homelessness, which is a 23 per cent increase from the last survey in 2016.

There were 234 people were staying in a homeless shelter, while 52 individuals were experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

An additional 264 individuals were living in interim housing and 55 more were in institutional care.

And the length of a typical homeless person’s stay in a shelter has increased from 192 days to 241 days, or about eight months, from 192 days in 2016.

Top reasons for homelessness at that time were addiction issues, household conflict, illness or a medical condition, job loss, and being unable to afford rental rates.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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News from © iNFOnews, 2019

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