A homeless advocacy group’s second-annual homeless count is officially underway, as Penticton struggles to manage a housing crisis that some believe has pushed more and more people onto the streets.
Last year’s 100 Homes Penticton housing registry week found 130 people in the city either living on the streets, in shelters or in unstable housing situations, such as at a motel or couchsurfing.
But stories have recently emerged, including in Western News reports, of more and more people finding difficulties getting a regular roof over their heads, with a scarcity of rental units in the city.
“I think that’s the goal of the registry week is to get to know anyone who is new, who we didn’t capture last year, or whose situation might have changed since the registry week last year,” said United Way Central and South Okanagan community investment manager Reanne Holden-Amadio, who is running the registry week this year.
“I’ve heard that there are some different numbers out there (this year), but our hope is just that we get an accurate picture of what homelessness and what the instability is looking like in Penticton right now.”
Earlier this month, however, South Okanagan-Similkameen Brain Injury Society executive director Linda Sankey told the Western News she thinks the homeless population has almost doubled over last year.
But Sankey said that was a rough estimate, which is part of the reason for conducting another homeless count this year.
“I don’t know if, prior to last year’s registry week, we did have a good sense of the numbers in Penticton,” Holden-Amadio said.
“I think that’s really helped provide information to local partners, so B.C. Housing has been instrumental in really driving forward some initiatives here, and the City of Penticton has been a great partner in bringing about new housing opportunities.
“I think that is a result of having some numbers and some information we can present and use those numbers to demonstrate the need in Penticton.”
Volunteers are hitting the streets, shelters and spots like the Soupateria and the Ooknakane Friendship Centre in search of the homeless and vulnerable to gain that insight, but Holden-Amadio acknowledged there may be some challenges to getting the full picture.
For instance, she noted there would be challenges in ensuring those who camp outside of city limits are included.
“Those groups of people are certainly harder to reach, so a lot of the area that we’re canvassing is kind of in Penticton proper, but I think we really do need to try to capture those people as well, because they’re experiencing homelessness or housing instability,” Holden-Amadio said.
“We certainly want to get them reflected in the count as well, because I think their situation relates to the need in Penticton.”
But even within the city, Penticton’s recently expanded shelter capacity is being tested. Just two weeks after it opened, penticton’s new winter shelter is being put to use, according to Compass House manager Roger Evans.
On top of the Salvation Army’s 17-bed shelter downtown, Evans is managing the organization’s new 27-bed winter shelter at the former Super 8 motel.
“(We are) almost full, but not quite, so we’re able to meet the needs of everybody. If it does get full, we will backflow to Compass House and open that up to any extras,” Evans said. “If we have an open room at Compass House, I’ll come over here and I’ll get somebody from here if they want to go to Compass House.”
But while the new spot is serving about 20 people a night, Evans said Compass House downtown is a packed house each night. Because of that, he said he’s grateful to have the extra space at the winter shelter this year.
“We seem to be (seeing more people). We did not start off like this last year. This year, with the numbers the way they are, it’s quite a bit more, so time will tell when it gets cold how many come in off the street,” Evans said, adding the shelter has already seen a cold snap this year.
“The timing was perfect; we opened November 1, November 2 we had that big snowfall. So we were busy the first night.”
Beyond just capturing the number of Penticton’s homeless and those in unstable housing, Holden-Amadio said the registry week is intended to garner more information on the demographics of those experiencing homelessness — for example, Evans said about a quarter to a third of those visiting the shelter are women.
“And a good part of it is a bit of information about the supports they need as well, so that information is really valuable to the community when we look at planning programs and support services and looking at the need in Penticton,” Holden-Amadio said,
“Whether it be for health services or mental health or different front-line support.”
A full report on the homeless count is expected by the end of the year.