The newest shelter in Kelowna opened its doors to the public on Monday, giving those who were curious about what’s inside a look.
“It’s important to get people inside but also to help people understand better what’s going on,” said Welcome Inn spokesperson Jason Siebenga.
“For us, it’s important to have people understand the issues and humanize the problem,” he added.
“And that’s one of the beautiful things about having volunteers come and work in the shelter.”
More than 140 people have offered to volunteer at the Welcome Inn, Siebenga added.
The Welcome Inn on Ellis Street is scheduled to open as a shelter for approximately 20 people on New Year’s Day.
“We will have 40 beds, but we’re going to stabilize with 20 first and make sure everything’s running smoothly,” he said. “Because it’s been such a rush to get it all together, we want to make sure we don’t crash.
“Once somebody comes in, they’re in until they leave. If they’re gone for 48 hours, we turn their bed over to the next person in line, but if somebody gets a bed, they don’t have to wonder if they’ll have a bed every night.”
The facility is scheduled to close on March 31.
“The expectation is that people will be able to move into other shelters, and there’s also some bridge housing opening in the spring to alleviate some of the pressure on the system,” Siebenga said.
According to BC Housing, approximately 286 people were experiencing homelessness during a point in time count in 2018, which is a 23-per cent increase over a two-year period.
In October, there were an estimated 60 to 100 people sleeping on Leon Avenue, according to RCMP.
In late November, the city made people living on Leon Avenue move to either Recreation Avenue Park or a section at the base of Knox Mountain. The city said it was concerned about hazardous living conditions.
However, as temperatures plunged, concern grew that more shelter spaces were needed.
The Welcome Inn was announced as a stop-gap measure in mid-December, but Siebenga said it is not a long-term solution.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s a band-aid,’ he said.
“Absolutely, it’s a band-aid. But right now it’s a band-aid that’s necessary, because when somebody is trying to put up and down a tent or sleep outside in the snow, there’s no way you can be in a good mindspace to be moving forward.”
BC Housing said it’s seeing local shelter spaces fill up as soon as there is a vacancy.
“There are no barriers to accessing this shelter, which is so important as the weather conditions in Kelowna are dangerously cold for anyone sleeping outside,” BC housing spokesperson Laura Mathews said in a statement. “Welcome Inn staff will be onsite at all times when the shelter is open to monitor and assist guests.”