For several years, employees with the Kelowna Gospel Mission have walked the alleys, parking lots and parks of Kelowna, reaching out to dozens of homeless people every week.
Their outreach program has served as the link between identifying the most vulnerable members of Kelowna’s community, and getting them to use the shelter and services that the organization provides.
Now, that program is on the verge of being cut, after the federal government rejected their application for $110,000 in annual funding after three years of it being approved.
“We do have our case workers that do follow up with people that they’ve housed, so that will continue but as far as actually going out, for now, that program is going to be coming to an end.”
While many homeless people proactively go to the Gospel Mission, some don’t.
“The purpose is to go out and engage with people who for whatever reason don’t come to our services,” said Benson.
“Our folks would go out and engage with them, make sure that they are taken care of, that they’re healthy, their food needs are taken care of – but more importantly, start to establish a relationship to try to get them into a shelter, to try to get them the services that they need.”
The federal funding allowed the Gospel Mission to have two employees on the streets every day and fund two outreach vans. They’re now working with other levels of government and donors to try and find more funds.
But as of now, the outreach program will end at the end of the month.
“We don’t know the specific reasons but in the wisdom of the committee that’s what they decided,” said Benson.
“The reality is that there’s a limited amount of money and there’s dozens of applications to come in and so some people get it and some people don’t.”
The news came in the same month that their building was damaged and van destroyed after a camp fire started by two homeless people spread.
Members of the community quickly rallied around the Gospel Mission, with companies providing a replacement van and a new storage steel box. It gives Benson hope as he works to save the outreach program.
“We are looking to the community, we are going to be writing grant applications, we are appealing to government agencies,” he said.
“It’s what you do as a not for profit, you try to get your support wherever you can.”
– With files from Neetu Garcha