Older women and youth are a growing presence on Kelowna’s streets, the regional district’s social development coordinator told city council Monday.
“Our homeless are getting older, they’re getting younger and they have acute mental health issues,” said Christene Walsh, explaining that the bulk of the population fall into the 40 to 60 and 13 to 18 year old demographic.
Last January, Walsh spent two weeks conducting a survey of the services available to Kelowna’s homeless population and found there were 414 males and females using recovery or transitional homes. There were an additional 101 using the community’s basic shelter.
Those counts, however, are the tip of the iceberg.
The Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., in a survey of hidden homeless in Kelowna, Prince George, Kamloops, Nelson and Nanaimo, projected a significant number of men and women without permanent shelter on a yearly basis.
“There are approximately 1,489 hidden homeless people in Kelowna, 796 in Nanaimo, 718 in Prince George, 1,167 in Kamloops and 306 in Nelson,” said Walsh.
Mayor Sharon Shepherd added she recently gained a first hand view of some of the city’s hidden homeless when she took a tour of the streets with Walsh.
“It shocked me,” she said. “There are women in this community who are prostituting for places to rent.
“They’re not young, they’re older women, ones you wouldn’t recognize as people who would be prostituting themselves.”
To get a jump on both streams of homelessness, Walsh said there needs to be further investment in everything from housing to social workers.
“We have a need for long term housing, with 24-hour site staff,” she said, stressing that homes must come with staff. “These are people who need more than a place to live.”
There also needs to be further investment in addictions and mental health services and in breaking down barriers to employment.
“People say I stress over what toothpaste to buy, so the programs have to be more basic for me,” she said.
Coun. Robert Hobson pointed out that funding social programs can’t fall directly onto the plate of municipal governments, and that it could be time to reach out to the health authority to get investment.
“We don’t have the funds, but if we don’t figure it out we will pay more,” he said.