Randy Benson is the executive director of the Kelowna Gospel Mission.

Randy Benson: Don’t judge a book by its cover

Guest editorialist Randy Benson says number one reason for homelessness is affordable housing

You know the adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover?”

The same is true of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission. Drive down the 200 block of Leon Avenue and you may well see a handful of people standing or sitting around on either side of the street.

To too many people in Kelowna, that IS Kelowna’s Gospel Mission.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Inside the walls is a totally different story.

The average number of people we serve in a day is around 200.

Of those, 33 per cent have a place to live and use our services of food and support in order to remain housed. Fifty per cent of the people that come through our doors have an active case plan and are working with a case worker to achieve independence and self-sustenance.

Many individuals with disabilities end up at our emergency shelter, not because of addictions or mental health issues, but because they cannot even afford a room to rent in Kelowna’s present housing market.

In our experience we have found the number one reason for homelessness in Kelowna is the lack of affordable housing.

I am encouraged that the City of Kelowna now has a staff member to address homelessness and social issues.

The goal of this position, called the Social Development Manager, is to develop a community strategy to address homelessness.

It has been shown throughout other cities in Canada that when a local government takes ownership and gets involved in the issues of homelessness, positive things happen.

The homeless individual of today no longer fits the stereotypical image of years past. In fact, it is very possible that you interact with someone who is homeless without even knowing it.

Many of those who stay with us are working, or looking for jobs, and find themselves in this precarious situation as a result of economic downturns, rising costs, and a series of unfortunate circumstances. Many in our community live from paycheck to paycheck, and it would only take one unforeseen negative incident and they could find themselves without a roof over their head. Homelessness touches us all, which reminds me of another adage – “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

—Randy Benson, executive director of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission