Migrant farm workers are using the Gospel Mission’s services, says the executive director of the shelter.
“What we see is people coming through with fruit picking (jobs) for the agricultural (sector) and historically what we’ve gotten is people from Quebec and (more) recently people from South America, Mexico and that area,” said Randy Benson, executive director of the homeless shelter. The workers use the shelter during the summer months, as they work around the Okanagan Valley,” he said.
“And some of those people don’t necessarily stay at the shelter but they use the food service for that sort of thing,” he added.
The summertime typically sees the highest number of transient people visiting the homeless shelter, he said, but the farm workers often camp out, so they typically don’t use the shelter’s beds.
Currently the shelter is operating at capacity, with 76 beds for men and 14 for women.
President of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association Bhupinder Dhaliwal was perplexed when he was asked why temporary farm workers are using the shelter’s resources.
“That’s the first I’ve heard about, I’m not sure why they would go there to use food services. They’re hired with a contract, they make an income,” he said.
He was skeptical about the idea, saying they could be tourists.
“(Farm workers) usually don’t travel… they’re usually contracted with certain farms. There’s a lot of youth that come out from Quebec and they do help with the harvesting,” he said. “A late season may mean that workers might visit the shelter to get by for a few days, but “I’m not sure why they would be there.”
Dhaliwal said there’s no food allowances in contracts, but temporary farm workers make around $13 an hour and work roughly 10-hour days.
He said he would look into the issue.