Tents may go up one more night despite opening of Kelowna's Welcome Inn shelter

Troy Dean Leavitt camped out in the City-sanctioned park at the base of Knox Mountain in Kelowna overnight Wednesday before moving to the other City-sanctioned Recreation Avenue homeless campsite Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 so he could be closer to the new Welcome Inn shelter and a possible indoor bed.

When B.C. Housing funded about 30 mats for the homeless in Kelowna to sleep inside just before Christmas, most of those shelter spaces went unoccupied. The 12 spots at the Cornerstone shelter were filled right away but most of the others were left vacant while people continued to sleep in tents and on the street.

With the Welcome Inn emergency shelter opening today, Jan. 2, the first priority is to move the 12 people at Cornerstone to the new shelter, while those sleeping in tents may have to pitch them again for at least one more night.

“There have been a number of people reaching out to us,” Welcome Inn site coordinator Jason Siebenga told iNFOnews.ca. “It breaks my heart. I’m trying to give them (those still outside) a non-committal recommendation to come by tonight and – there’s a chance (they can get a bed).”

He doesn’t want to overstretch his staff and volunteers on their first night in operation but he also doesn’t want to see people who so desperately want an indoor bed to have to spend another night outside.

Three people slept out by the dumpster at the Welcome Inn on Ellis Street overnight, because they did not have tents. Four people slept in three tents at the Recreation Avenue campsite last night and one of them came to see Siebenga today.

“I want to go in there,” Troy Dean Leavitt told iNFOnews.ca while packing up his tent at Recreation Avenue this morning. “It looks really wonderful in there."

The permits that allowed mats to be put in at the Cornerstone shelter only ran for 10 days so, as of today, no more mats will be available there.

People, like those camping at Recreation Avenue, either would not stay at Kelowna's Gospel Mission or had been banned.

Siebenga has spoken to those individuals and wants to help them get inside as soon as possible.

“There are barriers at all these places,” he said. “We want to have the least number of barriers as possible.”

If he can, he will take in eight more people tonight but definitely by Sunday night.

That will bring the Welcome Inn to its current capacity of 20. Siebenga expects it to stay at that number for the next one or two weeks to make sure everything is working properly before expanding to a full 40 beds through to the end of March.

That doesn’t mean there will be room for all of the homeless people living in Kelowna this winter.

“I heard, right now, there’s still 65 people (who are homeless),” Siebenga said.


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