As we look forward to the holiday season and the close of 2020, charitable giving and warmth towards our neighbours is often top of mind. The challenges people experiencing homelessness face in trying to meet their basic needs are complex and require a diverse range of solutions. Rising food, fuel, accommodation costs, and stagnant wages leave many Canadian families just one paycheck away from the experience of homelessness. To make matters worse, this year COVID-19 has exacerbated this vulnerability with many people facing sudden unemployment, and more people than ever are accessing supports from social service agencies.

“This year has forced so many more seniors, families, youth, couples and fellow neighbours into poverty; and homelessness is a devastating symptom of absolute poverty. Planning for shelter capacity and warming spaces this year requires additional capacity, and space to support physical distancing in line with COVID protocols,” Stephanie Ball, Executive Director Central Okanagan Journey Home Society. “The addition of housing is key to supporting those in Kelowna who have lost, or are at risk of losing their home, but emergency shelter is also a critical part of the continuum of supports that provides people with the opportunity to connect to housing.”

There are currently six shelters operating in Kelowna with a total of approximately 217 beds available on a nightly basis this winter. Shelter guests will have access to daily meals, storage for their belongings, washrooms, laundry and amenity space. Many of these shelters also work in collaboration with Interior Health to ensure shelter guests can access primary and community health services.

Emergency Shelters are operated by professional organizations, in partnership with BC Housing. The work of shelter staff is often complimented by a diverse range of volunteers from across our community. With more need and increased requirements to ensure the safety of staff and guests during a pandemic, there is an ongoing need to enhance staffing and volunteer resources in many of our partner services in the Kelowna area. If you have a talent or skill in working with those experiencing homelessness, please contact our local organizations and let them know what you can offer. Please note that you may need a criminal record check and an updated resume. Decide how much time you can commit to, and which days would suit you best. Our partners are looking to fill a wide range of opportunities.

And there are more ways to make a difference this holiday season, here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Show respect. Respect is free but the positive effect is priceless. Simply giving a smile can make a big difference. Many people who have experienced homelessness have stated that being ignored, uncared for, and forgotten makes them feel worthless and alienated. Being treated as a human being is worth more than you can imagine.
  • Donate to help individuals stay warm: A warm pair of socks or gloves can make a world of difference on a cold night. Pass on those spare hats, mitts, or boots you don’t need to an existing non-profit agency to ensure their best use.
  • Invest in addressing homelessness: contribute financially to a local agency for direct service delivery, or support the efforts to coordinate the community responses by contributing to the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society efforts to end homelessness by 2024 by donating through the United Way.
  • Add your voice. Talk to people and share stories on social media. Most antagonism towards people experiencing homelessness stems from a lack of knowledge. Once people are aware of the stories behind the circumstances, compassion grows. Small acts of kindness have a big impact.

“Let’s come together in 2021 and start next year with the goal of taking care of the people in our community currently experiencing or who are at-risk of homelessness,” said Ball. “Residents, businesses, and organizations can work together to offer support, provide resources, and find solutions. We all have something we can contribute to support our community, in both big and small, simple ways.”

The Journey Home Strategy focusses on ensuring everyone has a place to call home and since 2017, 269 units of supportive housing have been added in Kelowna, 139 of which were added in 2020 and an additional 74 units of housing with supports being added by early 2021. For more information about the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society and the Journey Home Strategy, visit journeyhome.ca.