COVID-19: Government response to people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna

BC Housing announces 20 bed shelter for isolation, Journey Home coordinating community efforts

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt everyday life, people living without a place to call homes are extremely vulnerable and face distinct health risks.

The closure of temporary winter shelters has forced many back outdoors, where they’re often in close proximity to one another.

BC Housing announces 20-bed shelter, people back at Recreation Avenue

On April 7, BC Housing announced it secured one location that will provide 20 spaces for those vulnerable people who need a place to isolate — and further work is being done to find more spaces.

“We are in discussions with the City of Kelowna about city-owned properties that could be appropriate to bring people indoors,” said Marielle Tounsi, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s public affairs officer. “We are also in the process of negotiating contracts with additional private hotel owners in Kelowna to support those who are vulnerable and don’t have a place to self-isolate.”

Following the closure of winter shelters, several people experiencing homelessness have flocked back to Recreation Avenue, where the city set up a temporary outdoor shelter in November.

Director of community safety in Kelowna Darren Caul said as long as there are not enough shelter spaces, the city will keep the site open.

“As long as there are inadequate shelters, the city has a legal obligation to designate public space for people to shelter outdoors and we continue to meet that legal obligation with the designation of Recreation Avenue,” Caul said.

“Having people shelter outdoors is not a solution to homelessness. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the downstream effects of mental health, addictions and inadequate shelter space in our community.”

He added residents have also been affected by capacity reductions at Cornerstone and Kelowna’s Gospel Mission as they work on social distancing and ensuring their guests are not exposed to COVID-19.

“Between that and the fact that temperatures have improved, we have more people who are unfortunately sheltering outdoors in our community.”

Caul said, just as before, there is a combination of private security, bylaw and RCMP officers around the area.

But on the brighter side, supportive housing within the community is helping to alleviate the issue.

“A significant opening occurred last week with the opening of Samuel Place… which is now home to 53 people as of this week. Those people were residents of the Fuller Place bridge housing and some were from (temporary shelter) Welcome Inn and other shelters in town,” Caul said.

“Next in line is the opening of Steven Village, which BC Housing is opening this summer and it could be home to 50 other people.”

READ MORE: Residents experiencing homelessness back outdoors as temporary winter shelters close

READ MORE: ‘Overwhelming, incredible’ support for foreign workers following West Kelowna COVID-19 outbreak

Journey Home’s response

The City of Kelowna’s Journey Home Strategy is coordinating all efforts on a local level, to apply and respond to the province’s direction in meeting the current and evolving needs of the people living without homes in the community.

“The level of collaboration and coordination is unprecedented,” said Stephanie Ball, Journey Home’s executive director. “The fact that our community has the Journey Home Strategy, and the Journey Home organization in place to convene and lead, along with a commitment to work collaboratively across all organizations that touch this population has been instrumental in positioning our community to address the challenges the pandemic presents.”

As the province supplies the guidelines, local shelter and housing with supports, operators have developed and mobilized several protocols related to social distancing, enhanced cleaning and monitoring.

Alongside BC Housing, Interior Health, the City of Kelowna, local service providers, and stakeholders, Journey Home is working to implement short, and long-term solutions based on local innovations and connections to what is happening across the nation.

Among local efforts, Ball said Metro Community church has retrofitted its space as a hygiene centre with showers and laundry for people experiencing homelessness. Through the Canadian Mental Health Association, all community outreach services are being coordinated with several organizations contributing to ensure that those sheltering outside have access to basic needs like food services, health supplies and emotional support. PEOPLE Employment Services is supplying peer navigators to enhance supports for those most at risk so that they can safely self-isolate.

“Having these kinds of collaborations is a real strength of our community,” said Ball.


@michaelrdrguez
michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com

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