Kelowna-made plan to deal with homelessness wins support

Journey Home Strategy creation moves to final stages

A $47 million plan to address the homelessness crisis in Kelowna gained the support of city council Monday.

As they endorsed an early draft of the Journey Home strategy , however, councillors also raised questions about its long-term impact, particularly if funding needed from the provincial and federal government doesn’t materialize.

“Twelve years ago there was another push to deal with this issue and it resulted in 160 housing units being created which are all full now, but I look around the streets today and it seems there are more people out (there) than there were 10 years ago,” said Coun. Luke Stack.

“It just leaves me with that uncomfortable feeling in trying to project where we might be five years from now under this strategy.”

Coun. Gail Given also had concerns about creating another not-for-profit social service group that will compete for funding with other private similar organizations, saying the city can push the strategy forward but also has to support other not-for-profit efforts as well.

Mayor Colin Basran said addressing the homelessness issue has been an emotional journey for council, as they have been forced to address a problem for which the responsibility often lies with other levels of government.

“Honestly, we looked at this as, could we do something that would be measurable and manageable?” Basran said “Now we have gotten to this point with this strategy and we begin to see it might be possible. And that is huge.”

Related: Kelowna homelessness strategy takes housing first approach

The Journey Home Task Force presented the draft framework of Kelowna’s Homelessness Strategy at Monday’s council meeting, the final phase before the report is finalized for adoption in June.

The presentation included an overview of the key components of the five-year strategy including foundational concepts and strategic pillars, actions, a proposed $47 million funding model, and a transition plan. The strategy’s objective is to work toward ensuring homelessness is rare, short-lived and non-reoccurring in our community within six years.

“At the core of this strategy is an achievable plan that is based on data and best practices to support those most vulnerable in our community,” said Kyleen Myrah, Journey Home Task Force co-chair.

“It’s inspiring to see the diversity of people and sectors that have already come together to support this strategy. There are already initiatives underway like the recently approved project on Commerce Avenue with 46 units, which will start housing people with 24/7 supports within the year. It’s important that we continue this momentum.”

The final Journey Home Strategy will be presented as a five-year strategy, with a plan to review progress in year three. The strategy premise is focused on supporting those who are chronically and episodically homelessness in Kelowna calling for 300 new long-term supportive housing units with supports onsite.

New housing support programs are also a priority in the strategy with a further 500 new program spaces needed including assertive community treatment, housing first intensive case management, rapid rehousing and prevention programs.

Related: Kelowna interest in solving homelessness highly engaged

The strategy also emphasizes the need to support youth and early intervention programs and allows for a shift in resources over time towards prevention.

“We are in a good position moving forward as we have a clear picture of the funding needed to put this plan into action and we have solid alignment with federal and provincial funding programs,” said Martin Bell, Journey Home co-chair.

“To achieve success in having the appropriate level of housing and supports in place, it relies on numerous funding partners and donors in the community. Having the Journey Home strategy in place allows us to be well-positioned in applying for funding.”

A transition plan designed to support the effective implementation of the strategy was also proposed which includes $50,000 in city funding over the next year to transition to a backbone organization, ultimately neutral of city hall which will be “laser focused” on carrying out the plan led by a program coordinator and executive director.

The overall investment believed necessary to achieve the goal of providing 300 supportive housing units and 500 new supportive service program spaces breaks down to $18 million in capital investment, $26 million for support initiatives and $2.6 million for the backbone organization overseeing management and accountability for the strategy.

While those fundraising targets are ominous, Alina Turner, a consultant hired to guide the task force strategy planning effort, said grant opportunities will be available through implementation of the federal government national housing strategy and provincial government’s supportive housing initiative expected to roll out this fall.

Related: Kelowna bids for $10 million federal high-tech project grant

“From a timing perspective, it couldn’t be better to have coordinated strategy in place now and take advantage of that to seek grant support,” Turner said.

She added that leaving people stuck in their current situation comes at a cost of $100 million in overall costs for police, health, jail, shelters and bylaw enforcement. The proposed Journey Home investment in housing to help these same people will see an avoidance of $50 million in spending for those same agencies.

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