West Kelowna homeless population is 61 % First Nation, according to survey

West Kelowna Council received the findings of the report conducted in July

Illustration of identified temporary shelters or camps on the Westside from Point in Time information report.

West Kelowna completed its first homelessness count in July and found there are 72 people who are homeless at any given time.

The survey found 61 per cent of respondents identify as Indigenous or have Indigenous ancestry and just less than half of those people identified as Westbank First Nation members.

“This is a significant over-representation compared to the overall population,” reads the report that was submitted to city council.

Many of the “rough sleepers” are camped in and around the Westbank United Church, according to the report, with 17 camps that have been identified in close proximity.

Related: West Kelowna homeless shelter at max capacity

Of those surveyed who are experiencing homelessness 39 per cent said they are inadequately housed, 33 per cent have lived on the Westside for more than 10 years and 22 per cent for less than six months.

Out of the 72 respondents, 48 per cent have been in foster care or a group home.

The top five reasons why people surveyed lost their homes were: addiction or substance use, unable to pay rent/mortgage, conflict with a spouse, job loss and illness or a medical condition.

Diane Roy, PiT Count co-ordinator and Westbank First Nation co-chair told council Tuesday that although the variables leading to homelessness do vary, the common starting point is that rent is too high.

“There was a bit of overlap (with causing factors) with addiction but it always started with being unable to pay rent,” Roy said. “One thing you will find is that if you take a person that is homeless and put them in housing, their mental health will settle. Every human being needs a place to live.”

West Kelowna staff member Nancy Henderson and Roy presented their findings about what next steps need to be taken to address the needs highlighted in the study and how to implement them properly.

Providing health care on a more regular basis to those experiencing homelessness, and news that the John Howard Society will be opening a location on the Westside will allow people to access medical care without having to cross the William R. Bennet Bridge into Kelowna, Roy said. The people she has spoken with do not feel comfortable going to a walk- in clinic and often ask for band-aids when receiving their meal at the Westbank United Church.

“This is something that council has been advocating on for a long time,” said Mayor Doug Findlater.

Related: Kelowna homelessness count shows more people without shelter

Coun. Rick de Jong said the need to be able to care for West Kelowna’s residents experiencing homelessness instead of only offering services in Kelowna.

“As a younger city we had to ship those struggling to Kelowna, we don’t have the services. But now we are maturing as a city and we need to rise up with our own resources. We have our own needs and this report identifies them, we can’t ignore this report,” de Jong said.

Another report will be completed in July and submitted to the federal and provincial governments along with non-profit organizations. The findings of July’s survey has been submitted already.

“This is breaking the cycle which I think is really important,” Coun. Rusty Ensign said. “It’s imperative that we continue to work together (with WFN) and I am pleased to see that we are working together so well.”

Roy said the next step would be creating supportive housing where tenants could rent a mini-suite, be enrolled in supportive services such as employment services, alcohol and drug addiction services where tenants pay 30 per cent of their paycheque as rent to break the cycle. Tenants would also be assigned caseworkers and would have to sign a contract to live in the supportive housing.

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