Vernon shelters scrambling to keep up with unprecedented demand | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon shelters scrambling to keep up with unprecedented demand

With the large number of people accessing shelter services this year, the John Howard Society was grateful for generous donations (pictured above) from the community. Stockings were filled with items like toothpaste, gloves and toques. Clients also received gifts through an anonymous wish list initiative.
Image Credit: John Howard Society of the North Okanagan
December 28, 2017 - 4:00 PM

VERNON - Shelters in Vernon have asked the province for more sleeping mats to help accommodate an unprecedented number of homeless individuals this winter.

“We are jam-packed,” John Howard Society co-executive director Kelly Fehr says. “It really speaks to the lack of housing and housing costs.”

Fehr says the society has seen a large influx in the number of people camping outside and accessing shelter services this year.

“It’s been building up over the last two years, but especially in the last year, and especially this winter, we’ve seen more people,” Fehr says.

Both Gateway Shelter and Howard House are at capacity, including additional mats laid out through the extreme weather response program. On average, Gateway has had about 38 people a night, and Howard House has had 75.

“It’s getting pretty squishy,” Fehr says. “We’re having to fund some additional staff.”

Due to the demand, the society contacted B.C. Housing to request more mats.

“B.C. Housing has been wonderful in responding to our needs,” Fehr says. “Normally we would have to purchase (the mats) but they are going to ship us more.”

Earlier this year, B.C. Housing announced an expansion of the extreme weather response program which would make resources available 24 hours a day, instead of just overnight. That’s brought a number of people off the streets, Fehr says, although it has made it a bit challenging for staff to keep up with the workload.

“That’s what’s making Howard House so crowded. There’s an additional 20-plus people there, not just at night but all day long. That puts a strain on food services,” he says.

He says the society is eagerly awaiting the arrival of new modular shelter units, expected to arrive in March.

“We’re very excited. It’s going to be great to get people off the floor on mats and into real beds,” Fehr says. “We’ll be able to provide much better resources and supports in the new shelter.”

Despite the close quarters, Fehr says they were able to celebrate a wonderful Christmas at the shelters.

“We had one lady who made stockings for every single person in our shelters and programs, and we had enough donations from the community to purchase presents and make sure the stockings were full,” Fehr says.

There was also a strong response from the Homeless Partners Christmas wish list initiative, in which community members pledged to buy presents for people at the shelter.

“Not quite everybody had something through that so a lady who wanted to remain anonymous donated $500 so we could purchase the rest of the items on that list,” Fehr says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 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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