West Kelowna Councillor-elect Jayson Zilkie says homelessness needs to be a top priority for the new West Kelowna city council. —Image: contributed

Homelessness first issue up for new West Kelowna council

A special council meeting has been called to address the need for a winter shelter in the city

Homelessness will be the first issue the new West Kelowna city council will tackle.

The council, to be sworn into office Tuesday, has called a special meeting Thursday to address the immediate need for a homeless shelter in the city this winter.

Earlier this week, the West Kelowna Shelter Society announced there will not be a shelter available during the winter because it said it has been unable to find a location for a shelter.

It has operated a shelter at the Emmanuel Church in the past, but increasing numbers of people seeking help, and a lack of space at the church, has ruled out that location this year.

Jayson Zilkie, one of three new councillors elected in the recent civic election, said it’s important homelessness become a top priority for the new council.

A member of the board of the Kelowna Gospel Mission, he said homeless is an issue that not only needs more attention from the city, it will also require partnerships with community groups.

He said he would also like to see better communication between the city and its residents and the homelessness issue could benefit from that.

“We need to get all the stakeholders together,” said Zilkie, adding West Kelowna does not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding solutions.

It can can use some of the strategies being employed across the lake in Kelowna, he added. Kelowna recently implemented its Journey Home strategy, aimed at eliminating homelessness there in five years.

But Zilkie cautioned the city will not be able to fully deal with the issue of homelessness alone.

“We will need to work with community and faith groups,” he said.

And that work is set to start at the special council meeting on Thursday.

The new council will be made up of a mixture of familiar and new faces, including a new mayor who is no stranger to council chambers.

Gord Milsom, who served as a West Kelowna city councillor from 2007 to 2014, is back, this time as mayor. Joining him will be three newcomers, Zilkie, Stephen Johnston and Jason Friesen, along with returning councillors Rick de Jong and Carol Zanon. Rounding out the seven-member council will be former mayor Doug Findlater, who sought a councillor position in the Oct. 20 civic election rather than another term as mayor.

The mayor and councillors will be sworn into office Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in council chambers during the inaugural meeting.

At that meeting, the new mayor will apoint council representatives to number of city and regional committees, as well as to the Central Okanagan Regional Board.

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