There are least 233 people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna with one-quarter of them being of aboriginal descent, 70 per cent being men and 60 per cent being chronically homeless, living on the streets for at least the past six months.
The homelessness numbers were released by the Central Okanagan Foundation, which managed the first ever Point in Time (PiT) count of homeless people in Kelowna.
The count—done on a single night in February of this year—was in conjunction with similar PiT counts done in 30 other communities across Canada under the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy.
“This is the first time Canada has done a national Point in Time count and we thought it was really important to be part of that so we can compare to other cities and we can have a baseline to compare counts in the future,” said Mia Burgess, the Central Okanagan Foundation’s community entity coordinator. “This establishes a baseline and now we can say we have at least 233 people experiencing absolute homelessness in Kelowna. We hope the organizations that provide services can look at the report when they are planning programs and municipal, provincial and federal governments can use it when creating strategies to deal with homelessness.”
The Kelowna PiT count was conducted on Feb. 24 of this year when temperatures hit a high of 9 C during the day and dropped to a low of -4 C overnight. Fifty volunteers were recruited from various health programs at UBCO and Okanagan College to conduct surveys of people experiencing absolute homelessness, meaning sleeping in shelters or on the streets. Data was collected from five homeless shelters while 17 teams canvassed streets, alleys and parks where homeless individuals were known to frequent.
Among the findings of the count was that Kelowna’s homeless population is diverse, with males aged 25 to 64 years representing the largest pool at 79 per cent of the homeless. Other key subpopulations include aboriginal peoples (23 per cent), youth aged 15 to 24 (13 per cent), and older adults (six per cent). Consistent with national averages, aboriginal peoples are over-represented in the homeless population, making up only 4.5 per cent of Kelowna’s total population but nearly one quarter of the homeless population. Of particular concern, the report notes, is the disproportionally high number of women indicating aboriginal identity, representing 42 per cent of all women experiencing absolute homelessness.
The report also states that despite ongoing efforts of many organizations in the area to address the problem, large-scale systemic changes will be required to reduce and prevent homelessness in Kelowna.
“Sometimes homeless people have a multitude of barriers that make it challenging for them to exit homelessness. Maybe it’s addiction or mental health or accessible housing,” said Burgess, who noted Kelowna’s low vacancy rate also makes it difficult for the homeless to find accommodation they can afford. “As soon as vacancy rates go low, the rents tend to jack up and landlords have more choice about who they rent to.”
There have been past efforts to identify Kelowna’s homeless however Burgess said past numbers cannot be compared to the new PiT count as the methodologies used were not the same.
“We can’t compare to previous counts,” she said. “It would be like comparing apples and oranges. We hope to conduct another Point in Time count in 2018 using the same methodology and compare it to this year’s count.”
The results of the 2016 Point in Time count can be found at http://www.centralokanaganfoundation.org/