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New Kelowna supportive housing project opens as an emergency shelter closes

Shelagh Turner, executive director of the Kelowna branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, speaks during the official opening of the Heath House supportive housing complex, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.
January 24, 2019 - 1:40 PM

KELOWNA - Despite the fact that most people moving into a new housing project are from Kelowna’s three emergency shelters, that doesn’t mean the shelters will have empty beds.

That’s due, in part, to the fact that one of the shelters – Inn from the Cold – will close tomorrow, Jan. 25.

Heath House supportive housing opened today, Jan. 24, in the former Good Night Inn motel on Highway 97, near Leathhead Road. It has 40 rooms, some of which can house couples. Fourteen residents are coming from Inn From the Cold and about 10 each from Cornerstone and Gospel Mission emergency shelters, Shelagh Turner told Turner is the executive director of Kelowna’s branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association that will be operating the facility.

Inn From the Cold's operations have been winding down since a Jan. 7 deadline for closure was extended to later in January in order to relocate some of their residents to Heath House, but time was running out for the contractor preparing to demolish that building.

A worker at Cornerstone emergency shelter said they're in the process of taking in other people from Inn From the Cold and expect to be at capacity tonight, as they have been since the summer. They provide shelter for 75 to 80 people each night.

The Heath House supportive housing project on Highway 97 near Leathhead Road in Kelowna.
The Heath House supportive housing project on Highway 97 near Leathhead Road in Kelowna.

Heath House, like other supportive housing projects, is a harm reduction facility where residents can consume drugs and alcohol in their own rooms or use an injection site where help is close at hand, if needed.

That aspect of supportive housing has triggered strong opposition in some neighbourhoods, highlighted by the recent public hearing for the Agassiz supportive housing project that drew dozens of speakers objecting to the project. Last week, Kelowna city council unanimously agreed to that project going ahead.

Turner has not seen the same kind of opposition to Heath House, partly because its neighbours are mostly businesses. But her philosophy is the same and the mix of residents is similar.

“The common thing is, people who have been homeless or at risk of homelessness,” she said. “They have limited income. Some people will not be using substances. Some people won’t have mental health issues and some people will have both.

“We’ve been running supportive housing for over 10 years and we know, when people are safely housed and they have supports, then their trajectory for success, whatever that looks like in life, is a thousand per cent better.”

Heath House brings the Mental Health Association’s count of rooms it supervises to more than 200. That includes Willowbridge in downtown Kelowna and 70 individual units throughout the city, where residents are free to use substances if they wish “just like anyone else,” she said.

Heath House was used for a temporary shelter last winter before being fully renovated.

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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