Our Place is Vernon’s newest permanent shelter for the homeless. (Brieanna Charlebois - Morning Star)

New, permanent shelter replaces aging Okanagan building

Our Place will be open 24 hours a day in Vernon

A new, secure permanent shelter for the homeless, opening this week to replace the Howard House, will offer people the support they need to begin to regroup.

The Our Place shelter features 46 beds, a dining room, commercial kitchen, laundry facilities and washrooms. It also includes a separate storage facility for residents’ belongings. Beds are also available for people with disabilities and rooms are available to couples.

“Our Place provides a welcome, needed refuge from living on the street,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Our government recognizes that shelters are only an early part of the solution when people are homeless, and that is why we are also building supportive housing for the community that will open in the spring.”

According to October 2018 statistics, 161 people in Vernon identified as experiencing homelessness.

“It’s very humble but it’s a huge step up,” said Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming. “We know there’s 160-170 people who have no housing so we’re going to need 100 beds at the entry level and we need that many at the next level. It’s all good and we’re celebrating victories and that’s what we’re doing here today but we do know what that gap is and we’re working on it and we’d never be here without BC Housing.”

Read more: Affordable housing development addresses ‘hidden homeless’ problem

According to Ann Howard, the regional director for BC Housing for the interior region, the building will cost about $1.3 million a year operationally — something she, and the mayor agreed was very reasonable.

“When you do the math it’s about $25,000 a year per person and that’s a fairly reasonable economical model,” Cumming said.

“We’ve done lots of studies and for people who are not housed in a shelter or supportive housing, the cost to taxpayers is much more — I think it’s in the neighbourhood of $80,000 a year,” added Howard.

Turning Points Collaborative Society, which provided the land for the project, will operate the shelter and provide guests with meal services, along with access to life skills training, employment programs and counselling, as well as health and legal services through a community network.

“Our Place is an important first step in homelessness prevention,” said Randene Wejr, co-executive director, Turning Points Collaborative. “Thanks to our housing partners and community stakeholders for supporting this project to help people experiencing homelessness toward the first steps to recovery.”

Our Place plans to open this weekend at 2307 43rd St. The 12-room facility will be open 24 hours a day, year-round. Individuals will be accepted on a first come, first serve basis. Individuals must be over the age of 19 who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Pets are also welcome.

Delivering affordable housing is a shared commitment between government and the BC Green Party caucus, and is a part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement. The Ministry said Howard House is closing due to its aging and obsolete building.

According to B.C. Housing, the province offers over 2,100 spaces of shelter; this translates to nearly 1,700 temporary beds and $93 million annually being allocated to combat homelessness.

“A shelter is the first step,” said Howard. “It’s a start where people can be connected with folks that care, don’t judge them but actually believe they can have a start to a new life. People make choices and here it’s easy to make a good choice that helps them along in their life and they can feel supported in that.”

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Ann Howard, regional director for BC Housing for the interior region, poses in the kitchen of Our Place shelter in Vernon. (Brieanna Charlebois - Morning Star)

Our Place includes 46 shelter beds. (Brieanna Charlebois - Morning Star)

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