Kelowna city council has approved a plan to create a “made-in-Kelowna” solution to homelessness.
The new Homeless-Serving Systems Strategy was given the green-light Monday morning after council heard from its new social issues manager Sue Wheeler.
She told council the strategy, based on best practices elsewhere across Canada, will involve looking at what resources are here, what is needed and what is being done now, talking and working with people directly affected, as well as local groups, to address the issue of homelessness in the city.
While it will be tweaked to fit the local picture, one of Wheeler’s goals is to break down the “silos” that currently exist and get everyone working together.
She said the strategy will be based on the very successful model used by Medicine Hat, an Alberta city that announced earlier this year it had successfully ended homelessness.
With council’s approval, a $200,000 proposal will be presented for the project later this month when council considers its 2017 city budget. Wheeler said $125,000 of that will come from taxpayers, with the rest to be added from outside contributions and grants.
In her report, Wheeler said the current focus on developing a comprehensive and well-integrated national plan is encouraging, “however, in the absence of a national strategy, plans to address homelessness and housing insecurity have become a common feature of municipal policy-makers and community-based planning. These plans have contributed to a body of best practices research which Kelowna can draw from.”
While the strategy is expected to take 16 months to complete and be put into action, Wheeler said there will be a number of initiatives taken during that time and pointed to several projects already in place as examples of short-term goals that can be achieved.
She talked about the cart storage locker project spearheaded by the Gospel Mission, having outreach workers go out with bylaw enforcement officers to help people on the street and mental health workers in police cars to help street people with mental health issues get the services they need.
“This is probably the most highly anticipated report we have had in a long time,” said Coun. Brad Sieben who, like his fellow councillors, was very happy with what he heard.
A few councillors talked about how the homeless population in the city has “exploded” this year in Kelowna and the age of those living on the street appears to now be much younger than it was in the past.
Wheeler said homelessness is a wide-ranging issue, noting that statistics from local shelters has estimated that 37 per cent of those who seek a shelter bed, have jobs to go to every day, but do not have a home.
A study in February counted the number of people living on the street in the city at 233, but councillors said they felt that number was way too small because there is always a large influx of transient people who come here in the warmer summer months who have not been recorded.