It’s called the ‘Journey Home Strategy,’ an action plan to solve Kelowna’s homeless problem.
The initiative, spearheaded by the City of Kelowna, is based on a model called ‘Housing First,’ which is used in communities across North America.
“Housing First really identifies that to end a person’s experience of homelessness, you give them a home. That’s where you start, housing first,” Journey Home transition team member Mike Gawliuk said.
A workshop was held Tuesday to inform stakeholders and members of the community on the Housing First model.
“It is really important for the community to understand what that means, what that looks like, because we are looking at moving people into housing with supports as a way of ending their homelessness.”
The workshop also provided information on why the Housing First model has been successful.
“People need a home,” Gawliuk said. “That’s where we start and then once they have a roof over their head, we can start to work with them to make the changes that they require to move on in their life.”
Gawliuk works for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), an organization that implemented a Housing First style program in Kelowna a couple years ago.
“We’ve had great success. The 35 people we’ve housed, 32 of 35 remain housed at this point,” Gawliuk told Global News. “And these are some of the most compromised individuals in the community. They are individuals that would have high contact with the RCMP, a number of hospital stays, and so the fact that we have been successful with this program again demonstrates how successful a Housing First approach can be.”
The Journey Home strategy calls for 300 units of supportive housing to be created in Kelowna and many of those units will be ready for occupancy by the end of 2018.
They include 46 units at a three-storey modular building on Commerce Avenue off of Enterprise Way. Residents are expected to begin moving in at the beginning of November.
The building will be run by the John Howard Society.
There’s also a former hotel on Highway 97 near Leathead Road that’s currently being renovated to create a 40-unit supportive housing complex for the homeless. That facility will be operated by CMHA and will be ready for occupancy in December.
And there are more plans in the works to create more units in 2019.
“We need to work as a system and no different than when we have floods in our community, we have fires in our community, we have an emergency response system,” Gawliuk said. “But what we need to have is a response system so that when people are struggling, when they find themselves in that space, they have somewhere to go and we can move them out of homelessness as quickly as possible.”
While efforts to house the homeless are a joint provincial-city effort, they haven’t been without controversy including the costs.
But supporters say it’s actually saving society money.
“It actually costs taxpayers less to support people in supportive housing compared to the cost of a shelter bed, compared to the cost of a hospital bed, compared to the cost of a jail cell,” Gawliuk said.