Homeless camps

This map shows the approximate location of 30 camps or rough shelters used by the homeless population on the Westside.

BC Housing is leaving some vulnerable Okanagan people out in the cold — literally.

With weather forecasts predicting our first real cold snap of the season this week, it’s going to feel especially unpleasant on Westside streets unless something happens soon.

In October, BC Housing told a local group it was unable to find appropriate shelter space for a planned West Kelowna or Westbank First Nation shelter.

“We were optimistically hopeful,” Rosemary Weighill, acting president of the West Kelowna Shelter Society, said then. “But at the beginning of October, BC Housing notified us that the property that was looking the most hopeful fell through.”

That has us bewildered.

West Kelowna and WFN are not immune to homelessness.

A 2018 survey found 72 homeless people living across the bridge, with Weighill suggesting that number is closer to 100. Nearly two-thirds of the homeless were Indigenous.

West Kelowna councillors have rightfully said it’s time that city accepted its share of responsibility.

Councillors are expected this week to speak about the issue at their regular meeting, but it’s likely too late for the city — which can barely house it’s own employees — to do much.

Unless there’s an announcement coming, it appears there’s nothing anyone can do.

That’s what has us scratching our heads.

BC Housing has said it plans 2,000 “units” for the homeless in 22 communities. Surely at 35,000 people, West Kelowna was on that list, so how could something fall through at such a late date? Is there something people aren’t talking about?

We sincerely hope there aren’t community members or businesses throwing up roadblocks in BC Housing’s way. Given how some Kelowna businesses and residents have reacted to new shelters in their neighbourhoods, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Homelessness is getting a lot of attention — and we know low-income seniors, the working poor and an entire generation squeezed between their kids and aging parents are sick of hearing about it.

But, at the same time, it feels like we’re just throwing good money after bad when we spend it on feeding, sheltering and healing the homeless.

It feels like this situation could be addressed much better — like we are exceedingly close to a permanent solution, which would help everyone breathe more easily.

We also wonder if the West Kelowna Shelter Society, WFN and City of West Kelowna could have prepared better for this worst-case scenario by having a backup plan.

Not that they need anymore guilt trips, but this is an untenable situation.

“I know these people,” Weighill said recently. “I know what it’s like for them day to day, and it’s getting colder and wet.”

It’s cold and wet now, and the Westside needs a shelter.

An announcement must come soon.

— Guest editor David Trifunov