Province needs to step up its game to battle homelessness, West Kelowna council told - InfoNews

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Province needs to step up its game to battle homelessness, West Kelowna council told

June 26, 2019 - 4:00 PM

WEST KELOWNA - While most issues surrounding homelessness can’t be dealt with by local governments, Nancy Henderson said it’s something West Kelowna’s has to do.

“We are facing a systematic failure at the highest level because most of the jurisdiction falls within the province” Henderson, the city’s General Manager of Development Services, told council last night, June 25.

“Because it is so complex, many communities are grappling with it because the impacts are at the community level and, as local government, we’re closer to the citizens and to the business owners that are impacted. So, many people look to local government to take some form of leadership to solve the problem and, I think, knowing the local community, it’s natural that we step in. This is new territory for us.”

It was less than a year ago, July 23, 2018, that the city joined with Westbank First Nation to do a Point in Time count that found 72 homeless Westside residents.

Henderson estimated that the number was really closer to 100. Of those, 30 per cent had lived in the area for more than 10 years and 50 per cent for at least five years.

Since then, she’s focused her attention on dealing with the issue by building relationships with other agencies and drafting plans to come up with strategies to deal with the growing crises.

The urgency for action has increased in recent weeks as crime and drug use in Westbank Centre has grown dramatically after a 38-bed “cold weather shelter” was opened last winter in the Westbank United Church.

That’s no longer being used as an emergency shelter. Instead, it’s interim housing for those who qualify for supportive housing, if such housing is ever provided by B.C. Housing in West Kelowna.

Coun. Doug Findlater said the shelter attracted some “sketchy characters” who are still part of the ongoing problem on the streets.

Henderson told him the United Church will not be converted back into an emergency shelter next winter but that B.C. Housing has yet to find a suitable location for a shelter.

That did not sit well with Coun. Carol Zanon.

“The frustration I have is, I hear that there are 25 agencies at the table and we still don’t have anything about a shelter for next winter,” she said. “I hear about the sophisticated services - about now finding education for these people and supportive housing and jobs and retraining, etc. But, that was for 38 (people in the shelter). What about the 100 (in the Point in Time count)? What about the majority who aren’t getting anything?

“I don’t want anyone dying out in the cold on my watch. Get those 18 agencies together. It’s now June. Find a solution. Let’s not have any more programs or development. I want to see action and I want to see a place nailed down for next winter.”

The city has called a public meeting for Thursday (in the Lions Hall from 6-9 p.m.) to update the public on what it’s doing about homelessness and to get feedback.

Henderson will take information from that meeting and report back to council, likely later in the summer, on what actions could be taken.

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