When it became clear that sub-zero temperatures were going to be in Kelowna for awhile, reducing the risk facing this community’s transient community became a top priority.
“A coalition of agencies, the city and the provincial government came together in a conference call on Friday, which is a testimony to the incredible co-operative forces we now have in our city (through) the Journey Home process,” said Laurence East with Metro Church said, Monday.
“In a matter of hours, we put together a (temporary shelter) plan … through a partnership of with B.C. Housing, The City of Kelowna, the John Howard Society and volunteers from our community we can house 20 people a night here safely.”
The old Central Okanagan Food Bank on Ellis Street is owned by the Metro Church and they are in the process of converting it to a facility that will fit their needs. While making it a shelter will set that plan back a few weeks, it was an easy choice.
“It’s saving lives. We’re just grateful we could muster it so quickly. It would be horrible to be outside in the cold,” East said, noting 14 people arrived for the first night and that it was a success with no incidents.
“We were happy to offer it. Obviously, we care deeply about people and we didn’t want them to be at risk, outside and sleeping rough.”
The space is a no-drug use facility, and those who need shelter register at 9 p.m., gain entry to the space and find a mat at 10 p.m. Doors open at 8 a.m. the next morning and guests are invited to make their way to behind the facility to where the Metro Church is operating a cafe and offers breakfast.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday there were at least half a dozen people still in the cafe area, catching more sleep.
One of them was named Eddie. He had spent Monday night at the facility and said that it was OK. Certainly better than staying in a park during “challenging” conditions.
He’s from Surrey and on route to Kamloops, but said that he and his girlfriend would likely stay another few nights to avoid travelling in dangerous conditions. The co-ed facility is a better match to their needs than the men-only facility at the Gospel Mission.
The street also has a completely different feel to Leon Avenue, where other shelters are situated.
People who worked in the area said they didn’t even realize that the shelter had gone up on Monday.
Crystal Russell has owned the neighbouring business Chai Babba tea for the last five years of its 10 years on Ellis Street.
She said that both when the building was run by the Foodbank and now, with Metro Church moving in, there have been occasional incidents with people who were struggling with mental health issues interacting in a negative way with customers and employees.
Their motto, however, is to “treat everyone with the same kindness you want to be treated with,” she said.
What would help with that aim is some resources for when trouble arises. It’s too much to call for police in those times, and she said she’d like people to be treated with dignity.
The Downtown Patrol can help, but they tend to be slow.
Other than these incidents, she said, the neighbourhood takes care of itself and despite its increasingly urban reality has maintained a small town feel.
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