Expanding emergency winter shelter spaces in Kelowna

People in need of a warm, safe place to go during the cold months ahead will have access to additional emergency shelter spaces that have been added across the shelter system in Kelowna. These emergency beds will provide temporary but immediate places to stay for anyone who is experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. B.C. Housing has been working with the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society, the City of Kelowna, local shelter operators and other partners to ensure that there are enough temporary spaces for people in need of shelter during the winter months by providing funding for additional spaces through the Extreme Weather Response and Capacity Expansion funds.

New this year, in an effort to supply the shelter spaces lost due to the pandemic and to meet growing demand, Kelowna Unitarians located at 310 Bertram Street has graciously opened its doors to support another 25-bed temporary shelter. The mat program will be run by Kelowna’s Gospel Mission. The program is expected to open in phases starting early in January and will run until March 31, 2022.

“Kelowna Unitarians are excited about the opportunity to support our community in this way,” says Danielle Webber, Kelowna Unitarians Minister. “Our first principle honours the worth and dignity of every human being and having the resources to share our space with unhoused community members allows us to bring life to this principle.”

Both the Richter and Doyle shelters that operated as emergency shelters last winter have also expanded to provide an additional 10 beds each. Cornerstone Shelter has been renovated and increased capacity by 16 beds, a return to its pre-COVID capacity. Metro Central at 1262 St. Paul Street will continue to operate as a drop-in centre, providing hygiene services for people experiencing homelessness.

“We understand the urgent need for winter shelter in our community and the team at Kelowna’s Gospel Mission are pleased to be part of the solution,” says Carmen Rempel, Executive Director of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission. “We are grateful to be working with our partners to ensure that everyone who needs a warm place to stay this winter has one. Establishing a well-resourced temporary shelter, with professional staffing and connection to a range of supports, is a meaningful way our organization can contribute to improving health and wellbeing for those who are most in need.”

There are currently five shelters operating in Kelowna and, with the addition of the emergency mats at Kelowna Unitarians, there will be approximately 290 beds available on a nightly basis this winter. Shelter guests will have access to daily meals, storage for their belongings, washrooms and amenity space. Staff will be on site at all times when the shelter is open and can provide information to neighbours and community members who may have questions or concerns.

“Since 2017, 318 units of supportive housing have been added in Kelowna,” says Stephanie Gauthier, Executive Director of the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society. “But at any given time, the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community can ebb and flow, with more than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness in the course of a year. While we work on housing solutions, emergency shelter is a critical part of the continuum of supports that provides people with the opportunity to connect to housing.”