Signs and petitions were passed around outside an information session about the McCurdy Road supportive housing project earlier this year. (Caitlin Clow - Capital News)

Defining the difference: Supportive housing and emergency shelters in Kelowna

The Journey Home Strategy calls for both types of housing to help people experiencing homelessness

The conversation around supportive housing and emergency shelters in Kelowna is growing, but understanding the difference between the two can be a challenge.

The Central Okanagan Journey Home Society, along with BC Housing and numerous community partners in Kelowna, reached out to the media to clarify Journey Home’s strategy and to explain the distinction between the two types of housing.

With the relocation of various shelters, the opening of new supportive housings and other initiatives over the past few weeks, the Journey Home Society hopes that a greater understanding of the two will lead the Okanagan towards a healthy and inclusive community.

“Even though these two programs are vastly different, they both provide an essential service,” said BC Housing spokesperson Laura Mathews.

“When you are experiencing homelessness, your sole focus is on where you are going to stay safe, sleep, and where you’ll get your next meal.

“Only when those basic needs are covered can people begin to think about their health or focus on goals that can help them move forward.”

READ MORE: Summerland care facilities work to protect residents from COVID-19

According to BC Housing, supportive housing includes an application process, a private unit, monthly rent and 24/7 access to support staff.

Shelters on the other hand, offer a first-come, first-served model, temporary access to beds, no payments, shared sleeping spaces and available outreach workers that look to help with the transition.

According to the provincial agency, BC Housing provides funding for the operational shelters in Kelowna which account for 160 of the 216 shelter spaces available to local people experiencing homelessness.

Since 2018, close to 90 people have been housed by housing first programs in Kelowna.

Three provincially-funded supportive housing projects are currently in development in Kelowna and will provide more than 150 spaces.

The John Howard Society will be one of the city groups that will continue to help maintain various shelters.

“One of the major goals of people in a shelter is to actually obtain secure and stable housing,” said society executive director Dawn Himer.

“The shelter supports individuals to engage positively with the community. This is often the first step towards gaining stability and more permanent housing.”

READ MORE: Concerns raised over COVID-19 outbreak plans for Indigenous communities

Journey Home shelters and supportive housing options are often at capacity in Kelowna. 

With more options scheduled to open in the next few months and then more in the next few years, Journey Home’s long-term strategy will continue to support those in need of housing and support.

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