Kelowna homelessness strategy takes a housing first approach

The Journey Home Task Force is presenting its draft strategy to council Monday

The task force assigned to developing a strategy to address homelessness has decided on a housing first model for Kelowna.

The Journey Home Task Force will present its draft strategy to city council Monday, May 7.

In the city, there are currently about 4,400 to 4,900 people that are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, according to the report.

The strategy’s focus is on eliminating chronic (which affects 120-150 people a year) and episodic homelessness (160-200 people a year) with three themes: inclusion and prevention, new housing support programs and backbone coordination and partnerships.

The $47 million strategy takes place over a five-year period and will provide 300 supportive long-term housing units with supports on site for people with complex needs, 500 new housing support program spaces, and system coordination with a neutral organization which will focus on strategy implementation.

The project requires $18 million of capital investment, $26 million for new housing support programs and $2.6 million for the backbone structure and coordination.

The funding will come from government foundations and private donations, said Sue Wheeler, social development manager with the task force. The details will be secured during the first phase of the strategy when a backbone organization is established.

BC Housing has already committed to building 190 units, but 110 units (three buildings) are still needed.

The 500 new support program spaces will focus on community treatment, housing first intensive care management, rapid rehousing and prevention.

“Based on findings from a number of Canadian studies, there is a strong economic argument for investing in solutions to homelessness. Our analysis estimates that keeping people stuck in their current situation comes at a cost of $100 million for the overall cost to police, health, jail, shelters, and bylaw enforcement. On the other hand, the proposed Journey Home investment in housing these same people will see an avoidance of $50 million in spending in those same systems,” said the report.

The top actions for the task force are to: establish a neutral backbone organization, create 500 new housing first program spaces, support the development of 300 long-term supportive housing units, support A Way Home Kelowna to introduce Upstream for Youth, support increased access to quality mental health, addictions, health supports and treatment, continue the Lived Experience Circle and Youth Expert Committee and formalize these relationship to strategy implementation and governance, support the Truth & Reconciliation calls to actions by partnering with Indigenous communities and ensuring that Indigenous leadership, support solutions to address the criminalization of homelessness, launch a homelessness innovation lab to develop solutions and ensure a population focus is embedded in strategy implementation.

The strategy will shift resources to prevention over time. The final report will be presented to council at the end of June 2018.

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