Not enough shelters for the homeless as temperatures drop

Cold snap drives those sheltering outside indoors

Kelowna’s Gospel Mission is always busy, but executive director Randy Benson said they’ve seen an increase in people coming in the last few days because of the cold snap.

“Our capacity in our shelter is 76 beds and we’ve been running at capacity especially in this cold weather,” Benson said.

“On top of that, we’ve had a few people drop in at night that need to warm up and we try to accommodate them as well.”

He said they’ve also seen a spike in the number of people coming in to have a hot meal and to warm up inside during the day.

“Our daytime services are open and our dining room and our day room are much more crowded in this weather, because it’s just too cold for people to stay outside.”

Despite the available services, Benson said there are still people sleeping rough because there aren’t enough spaces indoors.

“We’re working with a lot of other agencies and we’re trying to provide enough shelter to make sure anybody who is outside has the opportunity to go in.”

“As a community, we’re working together to make sure there are answers to that (problem).”

Welcome Inn, managed by Kelowna residents Jason Siebenga and Tara Tschritter, is also at capacity, with all 40 beds occupied.

Journey Home executive director Stephanie Ball said they have been working with various community partners to make more space in each shelter.

“The Women’s Shelter was able to put down an additional five mats. As of tonight, the community has managed to bring together an additional 32 mat spaces,” said Ball on Monday night.

“The Salvation Army is opening up their space and Tara Tschritter from Welcome Inn is going to use experienced volunteers and staff with support from B.C. Housing to run a 20-mat shelter there … the Cornerstone shelter has been able to increase their capacity by an extra 12 mats.”

She said there will be transportation to pick up those sheltering outside at drop-in and warming centres so they can spend the night at a shelter.

Ball added the problem isn’t with the community’s willingness to help or lack of infrastructure per se, it’s the fact that the number of those experiencing homelessness is increasing at a fast rate.

“With the increased number year-over-year of people experiencing homelessness, the sector’s human resources capacity hasn’t grown at that same rate. And for some of the folks that are experiencing homelessness, they have such a range of complex health and mental health needs that needs the right support.”

Ball said the City of Kelowna is also working with the RCMP and bylaw enforcement to make sure people outside are brought in. She added that if members of the public see someone unsheltered, they should reach out to the appropriate channels so they can be brought in.

“It takes a whole community to make sure that people make it in safely and that we get to everyone that needs us out on the streets,” said Ball.

READ MORE: Welcome Inn invites community to tour new Kelowna shelter

READ MORE: Deep freeze arrives in Kelowna, temperatures drop to -27C with the windchill


Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
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