It’s a traveling dispensary of basic needs that provided essentials to the homeless in the south Okanagan; but as of Monday, the region’s mobile outreach van will no longer be operating, as funding has run dry.
“I know we are all very sad that the van is ending,” said project coordinator Gwen Wain.
Wain and three other outreach van staff have been travelling to south Okanagan communities for the past few months handing out items to those in need.
They have been handing out everything from harm reduction kits, pipes and condoms to sleeping bags and personal hygiene essentials like toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Wain said the goal was to address homelessness and unsafe sex among those living an at-risk lifestyle.
“We have a pretty high rate of the blatant sex in exchange for money… but the hidden aspect is survival sex. People forced to exchange sex for a safe place to stay or in exchange for food,” she said.
The South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS) received a $25,000 grant for the program and Wain said the community stepped up as well donating money, toiletries, sleeping bags and the van itself.
The funding was initially expected to last two months but the public support helped stretch out the funding to cover the outreach van’s operations for three-and-a-half months.
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Wain and three others were hired to take on the project. They quickly found they were tapping into an unmet need.
“We found more and more homelessness, the type we hadn’t seen before. [We found] parents, single parents with kids in cars for months at a time,” Wain said.
The mobile outreach van service is based on need but also trust according to some of those who benefited from it, like Shena Watson.
As of Monday, the service has been parked. Wain said it couldn’t come at a worse time since a homeless crisis has hit the region.
“There are more homeless than I’ve ever seen before,” Wain said.
According to Wain, a hot housing market and low vacancy rates have contributed to the spike.
“The increase has very much been what people call the working poor,” she said.
The need is only going to grow heading into the coldest time of year.
“Of course it’s now cold so a lot of people may not identify as being homeless during the summer months because it’s warm and they’re tenting or living in a vehicle… now they’re identifying as homeless,” said SOWINS executive director Debbie Scarborough.
Unless a last-minute solution can be found, the mobile outreach van will no longer be hitting south Okanagan streets.