Moving people indoors from Kelowna-sanctioned campsites won't put an end to sleeping rough | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Moving people indoors from Kelowna-sanctioned campsites won't put an end to sleeping rough

Only a couple of tents were set up at the City of Kelowna-sanctioned Recreation Avenue homeless camp today, Dec. 23, 2019, as most of the 17 people left at the camp chose to sleep in a warming tent that's coming down today.
December 23, 2019 - 5:00 PM

After months of camping in sometimes very cold and wet weather, enough spaces are opening up in Kelowna shelters today so that almost everyone camping downtown could have an indoor bed tonight.

There will be about 40 open beds and mats tonight, Dec. 23, but that won’t be enough to bring everyone in from the cold.

“No matter what, we know that we still do not have enough space for all of those in need of indoor sheltering in our community,” Darren Cull, the city’s community safety director, told today. “There are estimates indicating that the total number of people sheltering outside in the city is currently at 60."

About a month ago, the City removed campers on Leon Avenue with most of them setting up at a City-designated site on Recreation Avenue. It’s estimated that as many as 60 people camped there at its peak. While the media focus has been on that group of homeless campers, City bylaw officers have always been aware of others sleeping outdoors downtown and in other parts of the city.

“We’re actively encouraging people to shelter overnight at the designated locations,” Caul said.

A space at the base of Knox Mountain has also been designated for overnight camping. Only two people camped there last night. That’s in addition to 17 people at the Recreation Avenue campsite and 16 others for a total in the downtown core of 35.

Fourteen mats at Kelowna's Gospel Mission and 12 at the Cornerstone shelter will be opened tonight but only for 10 days. Another five spaces are available for women and children at the AG shelter run by NOW Canada for a total of 31. With some open beds in the shelters, Caul estimates there will be 40 open indoor sleeping spaces in the city tonight.

“That’s just a stopgap until the Welcome Inn’s opening,” Caul said.

It’s expected that the Welcome Inn will open as an emergency winter shelter with at least 20 beds on Jan. 1, that should accommodate most of those sleeping on matts.

But there will still be another 25 or so sleeping rough in other parts of the city and the 26 mats at the two downtown shelters are only licensed to operate for 10 days.

The Welcome Inn is hoping to scale up to a maximum of 40 beds once it can get enough staff.

The Welcome Inn and Fuller Place, together, will shelter 80 people but that’s only until the end of March. After that, 50 units of supportive housing will open at a facility on McIntosh Road, followed by 52 units at a building on Agassiz Road a few months later.

One of the main concerns as campers got up from their beds in the warming tent on Recreation Avenue this morning – other than an RCMP officer removing a small hatchet from an angry camper inside the harm reduction tent – was where campers could store their possessions and what access they would have to it.

Dan, who would only say he was the head of the City’s bylaw contingent at the site but would not give his last name, said officers would take material to their office behind City Hall where it will be stored for a week, with access at certain times every day but Christmas and New Years.

Volunteer Shilo Ashbury was at the Recreation Avenue site this morning making an effort with other volunteers to move possessions to a storage facility they’ve found where the campers can have better access to their possessions and not risk losing them after a week.

“People are reluctant to go inside because they’re apprehensive that their stuff will go missing,” Ashbury said. “And their stuff has gone missing.”

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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