A temporary wet housing shelter will soon open in downtown Kelowna to help those who are living on the streets.
The new shelter will be located at 1265 Ellis Street, near BNA Brewing Co., and is expected to open its doors in late December or early January.
The shelter will initially open with 20 beds with the possibility of expanding to 40 beds if needed.
Only people who are over 19 years of age will be allowed to stay at the shelter, which will be operated by a volunteer-based group called the Welcome Inn in partnership with BC Housing. The organization hopes to keep the shelter open 24/7, but depending on staff availability the shelter may initially open only at night.
BC Housing confirmed there will be a designated area that will allow drug use, which will be monitored by staff.
“Due to the significant number of people in Kelowna who are experiencing homelessness and living outside, existing shelters are at or near capacity on a nightly basis,” stated a press release from the ministry of municipal affairs and housing.
“The province’s non-profit partners in the region are also running at capacity, limiting their ability to take on additional initiatives. Faced with the need, and the lack of traditional options, BC Housing is partnering with Welcome Inn, a new community-based group that came together in order to operate the shelter.”
Two local residents, Tara Tschritter, who previously managed Inn from the Cold, and Jason Siebenga, the chairman of Metro Community Church, started Welcome Inn.
Siebenga said he and Tschritter reached out to Journey Home and BC Housing after becoming deeply troubled by the fact that so many people are sleeping outside in subzero temperatures.
“Like many of you, I have watched this crisis unfold from the warmth and comfort of my home over the past few months” said Tschritter, in a press release.
“With funding and a great location we are confident that volunteers and shelter staff will emerge from our compassionate community.”
To help them get started, they have partnered with a service provider from Vernon called Turning Points Collaborative Society, which will help train staff and help them manage the funds for the shelter.
Kelowna’s Gospel Mission is also one of Welcome Inn’s partners and will provide meals for the residents. There will be storage for people’s belongings, washrooms and a common room. BC Housing stated there will be two staff on-site at all times and will be able to provide information about the project and contact for neighbours and community members who may have concerns.
“The big thing here is we’re just two concerned citizens who are willing to step up, but we believe the community will step up behind us,” Siebenga said.
“We need a significant number of volunteers and staff. BC Housing has offered to give us budget for whatever staff we can bring on, but we know that right now, there’s just a shortage of workers in this industry. So we really have to tap into the community to make it so that people aren’t left sleeping on the streets this winter.”
Siebenga added they’re looking for volunteers who have social work and nursing experience, but they will still provide training to those who don’t.
BC Housing will be paying for the operational costs, renovations and the lease of the building. Siebenga said they expect to close the shelter once outside temperatures are safe for people to go back outside.
There are currently three shelters in Kelowna with a total of 160 spaces that are open and funded by the province, however, with the addition of the recently announced Fuller Avenue site and the Welcome Inn temporary shelter, there will soon be at least 220 spaces available for people experiencing homelessness.
“Welcome Inn is really just a short-term emergency shelter to get people out of the cold. Journey Home has got plans and is working on an overall strategy to house people so they don’t have to experience homelessness in our city but that’s a work in progress. This is just about the emergency need for people that are currently sleeping outside in subzero temperatures.”
1265 Ellis Street will be redeveloped into a community centre once Welcome Inn closes in the spring, Siebenga confirmed.
In addition to shelters, the province has opened more than 80 supportive homes in Kelowna since October 2018, including Heath House (40 homes) and Hearthstone (46 homes).
On top of that, there are three more provincially-funded supportive housing projects that are in progress in the Kelowna area that will provide more than 150 units for people experiencing homelessness in the community.
Two of the projects are expected to open next spring, while the third will be ready in 2021.
BC Housing said it is also currently providing rent subsidies for 184 people or households who were experiencing homelessness, enabling them to live and rent in the private market.
Across the province, the government has opened nearly 2,100 units of supportive housing in the last two years, with more than 800 additional homes underway.
According to the province, these developments are part of the government’s Homes for BC housing plan, which intends to build a total of 114,000 affordable homes over 10 years, including 4,700 units of supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.
A map showing the location of all announced provincially funded housing projects in B.C. is available online: https://www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC