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Housing crunch puts women at risk, says Kelowna resident

“A lot of young women get exploited when it comes to homelessness,” she said. And that’s something that often does not get talked about.”
A Kelowna bus stop is used as shelter during a cold winter day

Barbara knows what it’s like to be homeless in Kelowna.

The local woman, who asked that her last name not be used, came to the city is 2000 after a relationship broke up. At the time, she did not realize how hard it was to find a place here, but she had a sister here who offered to help

But, as things sometimes do, it didn’t work out according to plan. Her sister, who had mental health issues, was not able to help her and, as a young woman in her late 20s unable to find anywhere to live, she had to sleep in her car for the first few months. And that was during an Okanagan winter.

She found seasonal work at Big White, but had to drive to Black Mountain each day and hitch the rest of the way because her car was not equipped for the snow.

She eventually found a place in Kelowna, but it came at a price. She said her landlord demanded they be “more just than friends,” if she was to keep living there. She acquiesced for a while and when she couldn’t do it any more, she left.

“A lot of young women get exploited when it comes to homelessness,” she said. And that’s something that often does not get talked about.”

She said she felt homeless throughout the time she was there because of her landlord's demands.

“I didn’t consider it a home.”

She eventually found another place but after a fight with her landlord left and by that time she had her two children with her. They had to live for several months in a low-rent hotel for while because, at the time, the women’s shelter would not let her and her kids stay because she was not fleeing an abusive relationship.

“I’ve lived a lot of life in my nearly 40 years,” said Barbara, adding she had never seen it so bad in Kelowna when it comes to the homeless situation

So, as you would expect, she has an opinion about the city’s recent expansion of its bylaw keeping people from sitting or sleeping on the sidewalks. She doesn’t like it.

Barbara, who now has a home but is not working due to a medical condition, said she does not feel Kelowna is a bad place, but a little more compassion should be shown to those who are on the streets.

She would like to see more of an effort made by the city to help those will little, like meaningful jobs and more shelter space. She is happy to hear that city bylaw officers plan to bring outreach workers out with them when on patrol to help direct those in need to the services they require and a RCMP plan to have mental health workers join police patrols to do the same.

The city has repeatedly said the sidewalk sleeping ban is strictly to do with sidewalk obstructions, it is not an attempt to target the homeless.

It points to other things that are being done in the city, by it and others, including more social housing, the aforementioned attempts to connect the homeless with services they needs and the upcoming strategy the city is about to embark upon to try and address the needs of the homeless here.

Barbara said from her experience, there is a lot of mental illness out out on the streets and that needs to be addressed.

“But what most people out there need is a place to go and job to do,” she said. “And not a forced job. Give them a hand up, not a hand out.”

She said homelessness can strike anyone, anytime if the circumstances are right. She’s an example.

“It’s like a rock slide, once it starts, it’s hard to stop and before you know it, you are on the street,”she said. “My main message is it could happen to anyone.

“Each of us, as an individual, has to look at how we treat people. All people need to be treated with dignity and respect.”