Senior dies amid homeless shelter shortage in Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Senior dies amid homeless shelter shortage in Kamloops

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A senior who regularly used Kamloops shelters died in the cold before the December dip in temperatures.

The man was a Canadian Mental Health Association client and was last seen by shelter staff on Oct. 27, but his body was found on Nov. 3 by outreach staff.

"It was a client we were very fond of and knew for many years," CMHA Kamloops executive director Alfred Achoba said. "This is something that under my leadership I'd hoped we would never see."

The man, who used a wheelchair, was in the cold and likely died of exposure, and Achoba said his staff are seeing seniors in need of shelters more often in recent years.

"We need to do more to protect (seniors). It's not just people with addictions or mental health issues that use our shelters," he said.

Temperatures have dipped in Kamloops as an Arctic front that rolled into the B.C. Interior this week brought some of the coldest temperatures seen all year.

Across the region, the air is well below freezing, at -28 C in Kamloops on Dec. 27. The extreme cold broke a daily record in Kelowna, where - 29 C was recorded around 8 a.m. at the Kelowna Airport. 

The days are expected to get gradually warmer in Kamloops, where it is forecasted to warm up to -7 C by Jan. 1.

READ MORE: No warming centre for Kamloops homeless as cold snap approaches

The man's death, for Achoba, was another sign that there was not enough shelter spaces available for the most vulnerable this winter. With 153 total shelter beds available in Kamloops, it falls around 50 short of the need. According to the most recent Point in Time count, 206 people in Kamloops are living without permanent shelter.

For Boxing Day, he said 18 shelter beds were added between the Memorial Arena and Emerald Centre shelters, but the staff are burning out as they operate over capacity.

"Every year we're planning and stretching ourselves out through the winter. This is not sustainable," Achoba said. "I hate the way we always have Band-Aid solutions."

With new shelters planned for Kamloops in early 2022, those spaces will merely replace those lost when the Memorial Arena is reverted back to recreational use, so there will still be a shortage of shelter beds.

B.C. Housing is opening new shelter spaces at the old Greyhound bus station on Notre Dame Drive with 50 beds.

READ MORE: New shelter spaces opening in Kelowna as temperatures plummet

Another near Halston Bridge called Moira House will host 40 beds, and both will be operated by Canadian Mental Health Association.

Achoba is hoping that once the weather begins to warm again, the City of Kamloops, along with B.C. Housing and local non-profits, can start to plan for longer term shelter solutions.

While he believes it's important to develop local solutions to a housing crisis that is known to be widespread beyond Kamloops, he said conversations with city and provincial leadership can get bogged down when determining which level of government is most fit to deliver solutions.

"I think that's where we're having issues is figuring out whose responsibility it is to respond," Achoba said. "We need shelters more than we could ever imagine now."

CMHA clients who use shelters range from individuals who use drugs and may have been on the streets for some years, to others who were more recently displaced by natural disasters like wildfires or flooding.

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To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 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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