A winter storm rolled into the valley Tuesday, marking the time of year that the men and women running Kelowna’s shelters start to scramble.
There are rarely enough beds to house the city’s growing homeless population during the coldest days of winter and Inn From the Cold and the Gospel Mission routinely announced they reached capacity in years past as winter hit.
In recent years the Gospel Mission ran the mat program, squeezing more people into the facility than it naturally holds for the worst days.
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“It put pressure on our facility by putting so many people into a small space,” said Randy Benson, who is the executive director of the Gospel Mission.
“There’s just not the same degree of comfort.”
This year, however, there’s a new service provider in town and it’s offered some relief.
The building that once housed A&B Sound music store on Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna was converted into Cornerstone, a homeless shelter and it opened Nov. 30.
“It’s really lowered the stress level here,” said Benson.
“Between the two of us, when we communicate, anybody who needs shelter we are able to keep up with that.”
The Gospel Mission has 90 beds and Cornerstone has 75.
Even still, said Kelowna’s John Howard Society executive director Gaelene Askeland, there is a need for people who have yet to come in from the cold. There’s hope that need can be met later this week when some of their clientele move into permanent housing, courtesy of a partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Housing and the Gospel Mission.
“We’ve been full since we opened,” she said. “We’re doing our best to keep the folks we have in there clean, dry, warm, fed and housed.”
Each day there are “hiccups and bumps” as they nail down a routine, but Askeland said overall it’s been running well.
“We have a great team of staff who are doing a great job and we’re doing the best with what we have to work with,” she said. “We’re grateful we have the space we do…Every day is another opportunity to keep people alive.”
Hazardous winter conditions were expected across the Okanagan starting Tuesday and moving into Wednesday.
“A moist Pacific frontal system will bring heavy snow to the southwestern Interior,” according to an Environment Canada alert issued Tuesday.
General snowfall accumulation of 20 to 25 cm is expected in Merritt and Kelowna while near Westbank and Peachland, snowfall totals could reach 35 cm by Wednesday morning.
Meteorologists report a deepening Pacific low-pressure system will track across northern Washington state.
“This system will combine plentiful moisture with cool northerly winds near the surface,” according to Environment Canada. “The result will be heavy snow continuing through Wednesday morning for most communities in the southwestern interior and Kootenays.”