Long before the weather turned cold, Kelowna’s three homeless shelters were operating at or over capacity, and the demand for shelter continues to grow.
“The fact we’re entering our cold season with our shelters already at capacity is an indication of the great need that’s out there,” said Randy Benson, executive director of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission.
The Gospel Mission has 90 beds and is consistently full.
“We’ve been really scrambling to try to figure out what we’re going to do,” said Benson.
BC Housing and the City of Kelowna have been working on a long-term solution, which Benson said he hopes will come into effect in the next week or two. He said he did not have the details.
“I can confirm that the city is in conversation today with the Gospel Mission and BC Housing, and we should know more about what can be done tomorrow,” Tom Wilson, spokesperson for the City of Kelowna, said Wednesday afternoon.
In the meantime, the Gospel Mission will be putting down additional mats as needed in its dining room.
“It’s something we feel we can handle in the short term, not something we could do in the long term, because our staffing and our facility wouldn’t be able to handle it,” said Benson. “Knowing there’s something coming down the road, we can make this provision on the short term to make sure if anyone is out there in the cold, we at least can provide a warm space and shelter from the cold until we get something more established.”
Kelowna’s Inn From the Cold homeless shelter typically opens Nov. 1 every year and closes in the spring. This year, though, it stayed open all summer, thanks to additional funding.
“I’m sad to say it’s very busy,” said Jan Schulz, executive director. “We are full most nights and turning people away.”
Inn From the Cold has 35 beds available every night.
“It’s a real challenge when it comes to turning people away,” said Schulz. “Most of our guests have either mental-health issues or addiction issues, or even both. They’re really the very most vulnerable in our population.”
Schulz would love to help more people, but space, staffing and funding are limited, she said.
“I wish we could do more,” she said. “I’ll be honest — along with the other shelters, we’re pretty maxed out right now.”
The upcoming winter season has Schulz more concerned than ever, she said.
Alexandra Gardner House, a local homeless shelter for women and children run by NOW Canada, is a 20-bed facility, but it has been operating with six to seven additional beds every night for the past couple of years, said executive director Liz Talbott.
“The concern going forward is we’re operating at 26 to 27 (beds) already and we do not have room to put down additional mats,” she said.