May 17, 2019 3:27 pm
Updated: May 17, 2019 8:29 pm

Controversial homeless shelter in downtown Kelowna to stay open indefinitely

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A controversial shelter in Kelowna’s downtown that was slated to close in June will instead remain operational on an open-ended basis.

BC Housing made the announcement on Friday regarding Cornerstone Shelter at 425 Leon Ave. The shelter, which has been operating since Nov. 30, 2017, provides housing and meals to 80-plus individuals.

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Cornerstone was originally set up as a temporary shelter for the winter of 2017-18, and it was to cease operations in 2018. However, BC Housing has consistently extended the shelter’s closing date since then, including an announcement on March 5 that it would stay open until June.

In a statement, BC Housing said the province is working with the City of Kelowna and community partners to continue Cornerstone operations “to help people experiencing homelessness while permanent housing options are built.”

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BC Housing added that the province will allocate approximately $2.4 million in annual funding so the shelter “will remain open until another location is found or people are relocated and housed.”

READ MORE: Kelowna business groups oppose downtown homeless shelter extension

“We understand and share the frustration of the community around the Cornerstone shelter, but if we close now, it would pose a greater risk of impact to the community and the residents of Cornerstone,” said Lance Kayfish, director of community safety with the City of Kelowna.

“Not only are people provided with shelter but the supports inside the shelter save lives.”

The Downtown Kelowna Association was unhappy with the announcement.

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“The DKA is again disappointed with BC Housing’s announcement that Cornerstone will remain operational on Leon Avenue,” DKA said in a press release.

“The DKA continues to believe that a large low-barrier homeless shelter like Cornerstone should not be located in the core of Kelowna’s downtown, in close proximity to numerous other social services on Leon Avenue.

“This concentration of social services has contributed to numerous difficulties for the DKA’s member businesses over the past 18 months, including an increase in illicit drug activity and vandalism of Downtown property.”

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The DKA did say, however, that while it opposes Cornerstone’s location on Leon Avenue, it does fully support the efforts of BC Housing, the City of Kelowna, the Journey Home Society and others to establish short-, medium- and long-term housing solutions for Kelowna’s homeless population.

The city said despite efforts, a solution to the Cornerstone shelter has not materialized. It also said Cornerstone, despite its challenges, is meeting a significant need in the community.

“Shelter is a basic need for human health, providing people with a safe place to rest and be protected from environmental hazards,” said Dr. Silvina Mema, medical health officer for Interior Health.

“Additionally, in light of the ongoing illicit opioid overdose public health emergency, the shelter provides a safe space for people to be supervised and get connected to life-saving services.”

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