In efforts to ensure everyone has a safe place to stay each night, the province announced it will spend $2.4 million a year to keep Kelowna’s Cornerstone shelter operation downtown running until permanent housing options are established.
The 80-bed shelter on Leon Avenue was slotted to close on June 30, but with the additional funding, it will remain open until another location is found, or until people are relocated and housed.
The City of Kelowna still intends to close Cornerstone, but only after appropriate, purpose-built facilities are established.
“We understand and share the frustration of the community around the Cornerstone shelter, but if we close now, it would pose a greater risk of impact to the community and the residents of Cornerstone,” the city’s director of community safety Lance Kayfish said in a release.
“Not only are people provided with shelter, but the supports inside the shelter save lives.”
The Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA) voiced its disappointment regarding the announcement in a release. The DKA said although it disagrees with the location of Cornerstone, “the DKA does fully support the efforts of BC Housing, the City of Kelowna, the Journey Home Society and others to establish short-, medium- and long-term housing solutions for Kelowna’s homeless population.”
The city, BC Housing and Journey Home alongside other community partners have established 390 units of supportive housing in the community since 2008, Cornerstone is still a necessary resource as it meets a significant need in Kelowna.
“Shelter is a basic need for human health,” said Dr. Silvina Mema with Interior Health. “Additionally, in light of the ongoing illicit opioid overdose public health emergency, the shelter provides a safe space for people to be supervised and get connected to life-saving services.”
BC Housing and the John Howard Society — the shelter’s operator — have relocated a number of Cornerstone guests to new supportive housing units, but Kayfish said the shelter must remain operational until all residents can be transitioned to new accommodations.
“We recognize that this is not ideal,” Kayfish said. “But as a community, we must provide service to our most vulnerable, while balancing community safety.”
“We have plans in place to mitigate the impact as much as possible.”
Since 2008, over 390 units of supportive housing have already been built, or are currently under development to help the community’s vulnerable population, and BC Housing’s regional director, Ann Howard, said the “Journey Home Strategy” is working.
“Since 2018, approximately 140 people now have homes where they are provided supports,” she said, adding another two projects are underway in Kelowna that will house approximately another 100 people. “Until more housing is available, shelters like Cornerstone saves lives, connections to services and provide people with hope of a better future.”
The city, BC Housing and the Journey Home Society recognize the need for supportive housing in Kelowna is high — currently there are over 500 people on a waitlist — and the organizations are working quickly to secure the “maximum number of units possible in a very short time frame,” Gaelene Askeland, executive director of Central Okanagan Journey Home Society said.
“We are also one of the few communities to have a concrete plan to address homelessness… This is a Kelowna-made strategy, developed by the community and it is targeted, realistic and measurable.”
The DKA will continue advocating for alternative locations and will continue to engage and “work alongside community partners to address the long-term needs of our city’s homeless population,” the release stated.
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
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