Service organizations coming together to move more people indoors for holidays
Bridge housing at 555 Fuller Avenue opened this week with 40 spaces and as the residents transitioned from existing shelters to the new bridge housing facility, shelter spaces have become available. To further add to that capacity, 26 temporary indoor sheltering spaces will become available at existing shelters on Monday to accommodate people sheltering outside.
“Since the opening of Fuller Avenue, the number of people sheltering between Recreation Avenue and Poplar Point has decreased. Last night, there were a number of spaces available in shelters and, these shelters will add additional beds and mats on Monday that will be available until the Welcome Inn opens in a couple of weeks,” said Darren Caul, Community Safety Director. “What is really unique is that many social service organizations in Kelowna are coming together to bring people indoors and are providing staff to cover the additional shifts required to make these additional spaces possible.”
The Welcome Inn is expected to open by early January, adding another 20-40 indoor spaces and allowing existing shelters to revert to normal operations.
The news of additional beds is timely as the operation of the Recreation Avenue site is no longer sustainable. On Wednesday, Dec. 18, the enhanced security firm contracted by the City advised it will not renew its contract effective Monday, Dec. 23, citing unacceptable liability. Without a security firm with enhanced skill to monitor the site and complexities of the infrastructure to support a diverse population, the current level of service at the site is no longer viable.
“As more infrastructure and services were added to the site in December, a new security company that has a staff made up of many former first responders was brought in because of the complex and challenging situations,” said Caul.
The lack of enhanced security support means most of the infrastructure that was added at Recreation Avenue will be removed on Monday morning. The warming tents and storage facilities will be removed. Interior Health will also remove the harm reduction tent. However, toilets, sharps disposal and garbage containers will remain at the sites and the fencing remain at Recreation Avenue. The sites will continue to be cleaned daily by a Parks Services contractor.
Overnight sheltering will continue to not be prohibited at the two designated sites, but set up and take down times will be strictly enforced. Private security, bylaw, RCMP and Neighbourhood Patrol will also continue to patrol the sites and surrounding areas. The sites will continue to be monitored 24/7 by CCTV.
The sheltering and care of people experiencing homelessness is the responsibility of the provincial government. As the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled early in 2019, “it is the province that is responsible for providing housing and social support” to people living without homes. The only legal obligation imposed on the City related to homelessness is to not prohibit temporary overnight sheltering in its parks and public spaces when there is insufficient indoor shelter space available in the City.
“The situation has been challenging in that we are trying to balance the needs of those living without homes and the surrounding community,” said Caul. “At the same time, the Journey Home Society, the City, BC Housing and the social services providers in Kelowna have been working around the clock for months trying to find creative solutions to a growing need in our community.”
For more information, visit kelowna.ca/homelessness.