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Why Journey Home has run its course in Kelowna

FILE PHOTO: March 22, 2018.

In 2018 the City of Kelowna created a task force on homelessness then helped fund what was supposed to be a self-supporting society.

That led to the creation of the Journey Home Society with an ambitious target of reaching zero homelessness in Kelowna.

“By 2024, 100% of individuals experiencing chronic or episodic homelessness will be housed with appropriate supports,” it said in its 2018 strategy.

Now, with just months to go to 2024, there are about 150 people sleeping rough on Kelowna streets and in city parks every day and the numbers are growing steadily.

Yesterday, July 25, the City of Kelowna, announced it would no longer put money into the society. That contribution started at $150,000 in each of its first two years but has grown to $250,000 per year for the past three.

READ MORE: Kelowna won't renew agreement with society tasked with fighting homelessness

The move away from Journey Home and into City Hall should not come as a surprise, Mayor Tom Dyas told iNFOnews.ca.

“It was always meant to be a self-sustaining society,” he said. “It is not self-sustaining. It relies upon funding from the city and through the city in order to be operational and it has just been unable to establish tax status that would have allowed individuals to make donations.”

In addition, the plan was always to review its mandate after five years.

In fact, $40,000 was put into this year’s budget back in December to do the review, which triggered the funding change.

“When we look at some of the strategies behind it, in terms of some of the housing initiatives that were lobbied through BC Housing, a lot of those negotiations took place through the city,” Dyas said. “All the data recovery and the tracking of all the data was still done at City Hall. A lot of the grant writing and grant processing, that was done with a team at City Hall.”

He refused to be critical of the Journey Home Society, noting it played a role in bringing 300 supportive housing units and a community court to the city.

“Initially, when it was established, it was meant to look at engaging service providers and working alongside the service providers to initiate programs that they needed in order to be successful,” Dyas said. “That was the template of it, at the same time as recognizing that there is a need for housing within our community.”

It's not that the society fell down on the job, it’s just that times have changed since 2018, he said.

“When we’re looking at homelessness, at one particular point in time, it might have been substance-based or it might have been health-based,” Dyas said. ‘Now we’re also having individuals who are working daily but are just not able to afford the rents within our community. Some of the needs within our community have changed and we just believe we need a little bit of a refresh and look at working harder.”

READ MORE: Affordability log jam barring people from moving off the streets of Kelowna

Stephanie Gauthier, the executive director of Journey Home, gave her notice more than 30 days ago to leave her position at the end of September, Dyas said.

That wasn’t a factor in the city’s decision and he doesn’t know if she gave notice because she suspected this change was coming.

Gauthier did not respond to an interview request from iNFOnews.ca by publication time.

More details on how the city’s homelessness strategy will be restructured will be made public in the fall, Dyas said.

At this point, the city is not looking at hiring any new staff or increasing spending.

“We’re really looking at reallocating the existing funds to use them to the best of our ability to address a situation that is critical to our community,” Dyas said.

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