With temperatures dipping as low to -20 C throughout the Okanagan this week, concerns about the valley’s homeless population are rising.
Carly Shipmaker, manager with the West Kelowna Shelter Society, said the society’s shelter on Brown Road has been operating at capacity since it opened this winter and now as needs rise they aren’t able to keep up.
“We have been turning people away, unfortunately,” Shipmaker said, noting the season started out slow but the cold snap created more need. “I would say at least a few people a day.”
The shelter has been operated in the Westbank United Church by the West Kelowna Shelter Society for the past four years.
“We started out with just mats on the floor and we were at 30 beds,” Shipmaker said, adding since Inn from the Cold’s closure, the shelter has increased its capacity to 38. Some people who prefer to be outside are now moving indoors because of the cold, she said.
West Kelowna completed its first homelessness count in July and found there are 72 people who are homeless at any given time.
“Our first year was 10 beds, the next year was 15, last was 25 and now we’re at 38, so we’ve grown immensely,” she said. Shipmaker said the shelter has been growing to meet the need of the community.
The shelter is currently accepting glove and blanket donations.
“The City of West Kelowna is committed to continuing to work with local community groups, BC Housing and Westbank First Nation to improve access to supportive housing, health and social services for individuals experiencing homelessness. Council looks forward to hearing from the Westside Shelter Society which will be providing an update on the temporary shelter’s activities at an upcoming council meeting,” said Mayor Gord Milsom, in an emailed statement after Tuesday’s newspaper deadline.
Randy Benson, executive director of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission, said it’s being better managed on this side of bridge. New homeless housing complexes like Heath House have helped by providing former clients of the Gospel Mission with long-term homes.
Mission outreach workers have told him they’ve seen a similar situation when they’re out in the morning.
Last year, the shelter was at capacity as well, he said, but other shelters like Inn from the Cold and Cornerstone were in operation downtown, alleviating some pressure for beds from the Gospel Mission. Cornerstone is still operating on Leon Avenue.
As of Tuesday morning, temperatures in Kelowna had a high of -12 C. West Kelowna was comparable with a high of -13 C. The cold snap is predicted to continue throughout the week, with the warmest temperatures predicted for the weekend with a high of -3 C.