Why some of Kelowna's homeless won't be sleeping indoors this Christmas | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why some of Kelowna's homeless won't be sleeping indoors this Christmas

Troy Dean Leavitt has only been in Kelowna for a few days but has already been upset twice with the Gospel Mission so will keep camping at the foot of Knox Mountain waiting for the Welcome Inn emergency homeless shelter to open before moving indoors. He's decorated his bike for Christmas but someone smashed the spokes on his back wheel.
December 24, 2019 - 11:00 AM

As beds and mats open in Kelowna’s homeless shelters there will still be some people who either can’t find beds or who refuse to access them.

The selection process to move 40 people from shelters and the streets into temporary beds at Fuller Place required people to fill out application forms. They were selected on the basis of their suitability to move into their own rooms when new housing opens up on McIntosh Road in the spring.

Others will fill their beds in the shelters and still others will only have a mat on a floor at night. But, at least those ones will be inside on cold winter nights and won’t have tents to pack up every morning as they did when camped at the Recreation Avenue homeless campsite.

But, there are rules to follow in shelters and not everyone who is homeless wants to put up with those rules. Some of the campers iNFOnews.ca talked with over the last couple of days had negative dealings with the shelters so are waiting for the Welcome Inn emergency shelter to open on January 1.

There were about a dozen campers at the Recreation Avenue and Knox Mountain sites this morning, Dec. 24, even though 14 mats were available at the Gospel Mission and one at the Cornerstone shelters.

“We knew we would reach a point where there were actually open beds available at certain shelters and there were people who were choosing not to enter into those shelters,” Dr. Trevor Corneil, chief medical health officer for Interior Health, told iNFOnews.ca yesterday, “We’ve reached that point – at least that’s where we appear to be today.

“The most challenging persons are those who can have serious mental health, addiction, and brain damage issues,” Corneil said. “They certainly have significant behavioural issues that get in the way of getting the care they need related to those issues.”

There are outreach workers who try to connect with these people and direct them to services.

But they can’t help everyone.

All that was left this morning of the Recreation Avenue homeless campground were five tents with, maybe, eight people inside. There were another three men camped at Knox Mountain.
All that was left this morning of the Recreation Avenue homeless campground were five tents with, maybe, eight people inside. There were another three men camped at Knox Mountain.

“There are some that will always be outside the system,” Corneil said. “They’re the most challenging clients for the system to manage and the clients usually see the system as very challenging as well.

“Those (challenges) are something we all work together to try and address. Different agencies come together, whether it’s a specific shelter, housing authority, nursing teams, sometimes other agencies like supportive housing or addiction counsellors are involved. There are often team meetings about specific clients if they engage in the system.

“Beyond that there a those who don’t engage with the system and choose not to - and I use the term ‘choose’ sparingly. They’re not in an empowered situation to make those types of decisions. There are people who are unable to engage in the system, despite all the best efforts of all the people who are trying to help.”

Some of the volunteers who have taken it upon themselves to care for some of the homeless people who were living at Recreation Avenue have been very critical about the efforts of these agencies.

Shilo Ashbury told iNFOnews.ca, earlier this month, that in a two-day period she was able to help four people navigate through the system.

“There are too many agencies, all working independently and all working with the same person,” she said. “The agencies don’t really want you to come in because we’re stepping on toes. Because we’ve seen the situation and we’ve seen what’s being done. We’re just regular citizens and we’re going ‘where are the people who are supposed to be doing this job?’ Where are you guys?”

Corneil said outreach works were at the camp twice a day but, in a way, acknowledged there was some validity to the criticism.

“In the last three weeks I have really seen how supportive and willing people are in all the different agencies to really step up and try and address the needs of as many people living rough in downtown Kelowna as much as possible in a very collaborative effort,” he said. “For all of us, there are some lessons to be learned. There are things that worked well in this intensive period that we can take away and say, ‘hey, maybe that should become regular practice. Maybe that’s something we can do better the next time we have a client who is in that situation. I’m hoping it’s the beginning of some improved coordination of care for persons who are living in these difficult situations.”

As for the contribution of volunteers?

“Volunteers are always helpful when they are doing it in the context of the care continuum, whether that’s social work, whether that’s addictions, whether that’s shelter,” he said. “I think it’s helpful if the experts in the different fields are advising volunteers on where to best focus their efforts.”

All that being said, there will be people sleeping rough over what, for many, are the Christmas holidays.

“On the one hand, I am concerned about those persons who continue to be at risk living rough,” Corneil said. “But I’m also very happy that the number of people living rough is about half of what it was a week ago. That’s a huge win for the individual patients and clients who were able to access service.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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