YEAR IN REVIEW: Homelessness in the Interior | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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YEAR IN REVIEW: Homelessness in the Interior

Cheralyn Redford is breaking a new Kelowna bylaw that makes sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk punishable by a $50 fine.
January 01, 2017 - 1:00 PM

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN – One of the hottest topics across the Interior this past year has been homelessness and how various municipalities have chosen to address it.

At the start of the year, Kelowna hired a new homeless coordinator to bring issues like housing availability to city council after local resources announced they were stretched thin.

A survey in November claimed there are roughly 100 homeless in Kamloops with more expected in 2017. The number of transient camp complaints in Kamloops from July to September of this year has more than doubled compared to the same period last year and Kamloops council approved a $60,000 budget boost to increase bylaw patrols in the downtown and North Shore areas after city bylaw, RCMP and ASK Wellness called 2016 a record year for the number of transient camps in the city.

In last year’s third quarter, there were 85 calls for service compared to 172 in 2015. The total number of calls this year has already far surpassed last year’s total by nearly 60 per cent. There were 230 calls in total last year compared to 392 already this year.

A count, conducted by the Central Okanagan Foundation identifed and interviewed 233 homeless people in Kelowna on the night of Feb. 24, which included people in shelters and 69 people sleeping in alleys, doorways and other places considered uninhabitable.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Inabilty to pay rent and eviction was the top reason for being homeless, given by 20 per cent of the respondents, followed closely by 19 per cent who say they were evicted for other reasons. 

Vernon, too, struggled with a significant homelessness issue, but were left out of a federal grant that was given to Kelowna and Kamloops this spring. 

A handful of people even sought shelter in vacant horse barns at Kin Race Track over the winter and a census conducted in October 2015 found six homeless camps in the city, up from three the previous spring.

Vernon’s Upper Room Mission saw a 31 per cent increase in the number of meals being served out of its soup kitchen compared to a year prior. Director of resource development Lisa Anderson says they are averaging roughly 350 to 375 meals a day.

“More people are accessing the Mission than ever before, and those numbers are projected to continue to rise. We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of families, children, and seniors using our services,” Anderson said in a release

Vernon installed kindness meters this summer, so residents and visitors to downtown could donate money without encouraging recent allegations of aggressive panhandling.

Hundreds of dollars in change were collected in the first two weeks and donated to local organizations such as the John Howard Society, Upper Room Mission and the Salvation Army.

James Gautreau panhandles outside the Real Canadian Superstore in Vernon.
James Gautreau panhandles outside the Real Canadian Superstore in Vernon.

Over the last year several people spoke to iNFOnews about their experiences living on the streets. James Gautreau of Vernon has been homeless off and on since he was 12-years-old and Cheralyn Redford came forward after the City of Kelowna expanded a bylaw that made sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk downtown a fineable offence at any hour.

Mayor Colin Basran issued a statement saying the bylaw is only meant to keep downtown businesses from losing customers and one man was arrested for obstruction when he refused to go inside on one of the coldest days of the year

Kelowna is the only city in the Interior fining people for sleeping on the sidewalk at night and Penticton spokesperson Tina Siebert said laying or sleeping on the sidewalk is rarely a public complaint.

“We have not taken the same stance as Kelowna with new bylaws or bylaw amendments related to persons sleeping on the sidewalks primarily because it is not as pressing of an issue in Penticton,” she says. “If this changes, we will certainly reevaluate and consider the direction that the City of Kelowna has moved towards.”

The proposed legislation drew criticism and even a rally in front of City Hall from homeless advocates who say the bylaw punishes those who already have nothing

A homeless Kelowna man (not pictured) was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 7 for refusing to leave a public sidewalk in Kelowna.
A homeless Kelowna man (not pictured) was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 7 for refusing to leave a public sidewalk in Kelowna.

Executive director of the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, Michelle Novakowski, says while she understands businesses not wanting their sidewalks blocked, there has to be alternatives for those who have no other options.

“I think (Council) are hoping they’ll go somewhere else but where are they going to go?” she asks. “They may not fit at a shelter because they’re afraid to be in groups like that. Most of them are survivors of abuse, dealing with post-traumatic stress or substance abuse… and a lot don’t have the capacity to keep looking for housing.”

The reasons behind the growing issue are still being debated. Vernon city councillor Scott Anderson said he believes the Okanagan attracts a number of homeless people because of the climate and speculated that the root cause is often mental health and addictions issues but iNFOnews also spoke to a pregnant Vernon couple who were forced to live in a tent on private property.

Ryan Dubois says he and Chantelle became homeless the middle of July after being evicted by his landlord.  

“There was no way I was going to a homeless shelter,” Ryan says. “I know how it works in shelters, one is men’s and one is women’s. I didn’t want to be separated from Chantelle and she didn’t want to be separated from me.”

Ryan Dubois says he and Chantelle would probably be on the street if things hadn't turned out the way they did.
Ryan Dubois says he and Chantelle would probably be on the street if things hadn't turned out the way they did.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 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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