Communities across BC and Canada are continuing to experience a homelessness crisis, and to make matters more complicated, this crisis is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Locally, in response to this crisis the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society (COJHS), BC Housing and the City have been working in partnership and significant investments have been made to move the needle on addressing the housing needs of our most housing-vulnerable citizens.

Since 2017, 231 units of supportive housing have been added in Kelowna, including the most recent addition of Stephen Village. By early 2021, an additional 87 units of housing with supports (Ellis Street and McCurdy Road) will be added to the inventory.

“While gains have been made in introducing new housing units in Kelowna, homelessness is complex, dynamic, and is an ever-changing landscape,” said Stephanie Ball, Executive Director. “With need still greater than the number of shelter space available along with the reduction of space in existing shelters to accommodate physical distancing requirements, we anticipate that additional shelter spaces will be needed this winter and have been working with BC Housing and the City for several months to develop an Emergency Winter Shelter Plan.”

Like other communities across BC, Kelowna is faced with the uncertainty of the impact of the COVID pandemic. As a result, we have worked to develop a plan focused on increasing the shelter bed capacity as people move into housing with supports, and as more of our citizens may need support.

“As a Built for Zero Community, we have some level of real-time data that is informing the level of need but it isn’t perfect,” said Ball. “COJHS is continuing to work on integrating data to achieve a clearer understanding of the need and trends over time to inform planning and funding investments.”

There are currently four shelters, totaling 138 beds that are operating in Kelowna. Once the Fuller Avenue shelter closes at the end of the month, BC Housing has ensured all 15 beds will be transitioned over to the Cornerstone shelter, which means there won’t be any loss of shelter spaces in the community. All of these sites are at or near capacity on a nightly basis.

BC Housing is also working with partners in the community to open additional temporary shelters over the winter months. BC Housing continues to work with the City and Journey Home to identify shelter solutions and will share details as they are confirmed.

Temporary Emergency Winter Shelter sites provide a warm secure space with fulltime on-site staff support and accommodate sleeping, access to food services, laundry facilities, showers, connections to health services, and most importantly a community of acceptance.

“Last year’s outpouring of compassion resulted in donations and community volunteers that supported service providers and ensured people had an indoor shelter to go to,” said Ball. “Supporting people experiencing homelessness in our community by contributing to our local non-profit agencies or giving whatever way they can makes such a difference in reducing stigma and promoting acceptance. Even the smallest things like a smile, voicing care and compassion, help.”

The Journey Home Strategy is designed to be targeted, realistic, and measurable and implemented over a span of five years. To implement the Strategy, Journey Home will continue to work towards the milestones of ending chronic homelessness by 2024, introducing measures to prevent homelessness in the first place, and to ensure continuous improvement in the coordinated approach across the system to achieve a functional end to homelessness. Immediate initiatives include integration of health, housing and outreach supports as well as winter shelter planning for the upcoming winter months to ensure that everyone has a place to shelter indoors during the coldest weather.

For more information about the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society and the Journey Home Strategy, visit journeyhome.ca.