Homelessness rising

A homeless shelter on Leon Avenue intended to be temporary will operate at least until next March. Kelowna's homeless population has increased 23 per cent in two years, a new survey says.

The number of homeless people in Kelowna has increased 23 per cent in the past two years, a new report says.

A total of 286 people, one-quarter of them Indigenous, were identified as living in a homeless shelter or sleeping rough on the streets during a count conducted in March.

And the length of a typical homeless person's stay in a shelter has increased from 192 days to 241 days, or about eight months, from 192 days in 2016.

Top reasons for homelessness, according to the report conducted by the Central Okanagan Foundation, are addiction issues, household conflict, illness or a medical condition, job loss, and being unable to afford rental rates.

More than 80 volunteers conducted the count on the night of March 6. People were counted at the Gospel Mission, Women's Shelter, a youth shelter run by the Boys and Girls Club, the Inn from the Cold shelter, as well as streets, alleys, and parks. locations.

Among other survey findings:

- the highest reported source of income was disability benefits, with almost one-third of the homeless saying they received such payments. Twenty-six per cent said they were on welfare, while 18 per cent said they made money through bottle returns

- one-quarter of the homeless said they had come to Kelowna in the previous year, while three-quarters were here longer than a year

- the homeless population was split 68 per cent men, 31 per cent women, one per cent transgender

- two per cent of the homeless were immigrants or refugees that had moved to Canada in the previous five years

- Indigenous people make up less than six per cent of Kelowna's total population, but one-quarter of its homeless

The count was part of the federal government's strategy to address homelessness in Canada. Similar counts were conducted in 60 other cities.

"Understanding the factors that result in homelessness will help us focus on prevention efforts and find permanent, supportive solutions for people experiencing homelessness in our community," Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr said in a release.

The City of Kelowna is developing an anti-homelessnes strategy, called Journey Home, that includes construction of 110 new long-term housing units and various support programs at an estimated cost of $47 million over five years.

Local officials hope most of the required money will come from the provincial and federal governments.

"As you say, we'll always have our poor, but hopefully we'll have housing for them," Coun. Gail Given said at meeting on May 7.