The operator of two shelter spaces in Penticton, B.C., said the lack of affordable housing has reached crisis levels in the South Okanagan, and winter shelters are bursting at the seams.
Roger Evans, manager at the Salvation Army, said the 27 winter shelter beds at the former Super 8 motel at 1706 Main Street reached capacity on Monday night, requiring overflow at Compass House.
“It’s cold and there’s a lot of people homeless,” he said. “It’s just the cost of housing, they can’t get housing.”
In May, Statistics Canada data compiled by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association said the average rent in Penticton is $1,035 per month.
The Canadian Rental Housing Index shows 49 per cent of Penticton households spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and utilities.
Last fall’s homeless count identified 163 people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness in Penticton. This past spring, preliminary results found 108 people were homeless or at risk of being homeless in Penticton.
The Main Street temporary winter shelter opened on Nov. 3rd. It provides an around-the-clock warming space, three meals a day and overnight bunkbed-style accommodation.
WATCH BELOW: Penticton Salvation Army says lack of affordable housing has led to crunch at winter shelters
Of the 27 beds available, up to 10 are for women. Evans said he is seeing more women end up on the street and the low-barrier shelter is a life-saving initiative.
The shelter is also a refuge for drug users trying to escape bitter temperatures.
“They cannot use on site; they can go off site and use, as long as they come back and they can maintain the respectability of the house, then they are welcome to stay,” Evans said.
Sebasdien Jobin is homeless and stayed at the shelter on Monday night. He said he was discovered living in a bush and offered housing.
“Otherwise, people would freeze, so I’m pretty glad,” he said. “It saved me, so I’m very thankful for all those resources. It’s indispensable.”
Evans said the former Super 8 motel will offer permanent housing, including 20 year-round beds for both men and women as well as programming, in March 2019.
During the winter months, 30 additional temporary beds will be available.
“There is a need out there, people are suffering,” he said.
In related news, according to the provincial government, the Swiss Sunset Inn on Skaha Lake Road will be opening as temporary housing for people who are experiencing homelessness in Penticton. The gov’t said this is not a drop-in shelter; people will apply for housing and go through a thorough assessment process. The 25 units, to be operated by ASK Wellness, will be available December 1st and will remain open until tenants can transition to other housing options as they become available.
Also according to the gov’t, the temporary shelter at the former Super 8 motel at 1706 Main Street is expected to close on March 31st, 2019.