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No one is stepping up to offer shelter for the homeless in Kelowna

There doesn't seem to be any warm indoor shelters coming for these homeless people as they set up their tents in sight of prime waterfront high rise condos.
November 27, 2019 - 7:30 PM

While many people are concerned about Kelowna’s homeless tent cities, no one seems willing or able to give them shelter.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says the city, B.C. Housing and Journey Home have been working for months trying to find winter emergency shelter space, to no avail.

“No matter where we turn, it seems like there’s one issue or another that makes the site unavailable,” Basran told today, Nov. 27.

While they look, winter has officially arrived this week with temperatures expected to drop as low as -13 Celsius — and colder with a wind chill. 

An emergency shelter committee was struck a few months ago by Journey Home – the organization trying to bring an end to homelessness in Kelowna. By the end of October, it looked like a 40-bed shelter space was imminent.

“There was a site identified by Journey Home, however, the organization leasing the space was not willing to allow the site to be used for a temporary winter shelter,” Basran said.

Finding a shelter space is a joint effort between Journey Home, the city and B.C. Housing, he said.

“We have been going on for a number of months but just have not been able to find an appropriate site and/or an operator who may be able to operate it, so it’s been significantly challenging for sure,” he said.

Staffing is a huge issue. Dawn Himer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society that managers Cornerstone emergency shelter and a number of housing facilities, told that it would take weeks for her to find and train staff to run a new shelter.

But finding a site needs to come first.

“The City of Kelowna has not yet decided on a site for a new temporary shelter,” B.C. Housing said in an email. “B.C. Housing works with local governments and communities when identifying potential shelter sites and looks into all potential sites that have been identified by city and community partners.’

Basran doesn’t see it quite the same way.

The City can help if it owns suitable facilities that can be used but it’s up to B.C. Housing to actually negotiate with private property owners, he said.

“Ultimately, the responsibility falls to B.C. Housing,” Basran said. “The City of Kelowna and municipalities in British Columbia aren’t responsible for housing, so I would say, ultimately, it would be B.C. Housing. But the City of Kelowna wants to be helpful so we are cooperating, working alongside them, doing whatever we can in our capacity to identify sites or locations.”

Basran did confirm that a city-owned building is being considered but would not comment further because “nothing has been finalized.”

In the meantime, dozens of homeless people camped on Leon Avenue have now been relocated to a ball diamond behind the Kelowna Curling Club.

A number of potential sites for such a camp were presented to council on Nov. 18 during an in camera meeting, Basran said, but did not say how many or in what areas of the city they were located.

In a second in camera meeting on Nov. 25, council agreed on offering up the curling club site along with land at the base of Knox Mountain.

All the affected tenters were ordered off Leon Avenue the next day and they all chose to move to the curling club site.

The eviction order came just hours after a propane fire was quickly extinguished in one of the tents.

“The fire didn’t cause this to happen but it’s certainly one of the reasons it had to happen, absolutely,” Basran said.

So, is it going to take someone freezing to death before an indoor shelter is opened?

“My hope is not,” Basran said. “We’ve provided heaters and blankets and we’re doing everything we can to keep people alive and pursue every option possible to create a temporary indoor shelter for the winter.”

On Oct. 31, B.C. Housing issued a news release listing the addresses of emergency winter shelters throughout the province. Kelowna was listed as "working with the community to establish shelter spaces."


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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