After nearly two decades, Friday marked the last day on the job for Randy Benson, the Gospel Mission’s longtime executive director.
“I knew this day was coming and I thought it would be an easy day,” Benson told Global News.
“It’s different than I expected because the finality is really here.”
Benson became the head of the Gospel Mission in 2001.
On Friday, the organization had a Hawaiian-themed retirement send-off for the well-respected leader.
“This has been such a good ride that, as I leave, I know I’m leaving it in good hands,” Benson said, referring to new Gospel Mission executive director Carmen Rempel and the direction the organization is heading in.
Benson has watched homelessness in Kelowna grow dramatically over the years.
“The whole homeless issue has really exploded. Obviously, it’s become forefront in our community,” he said.
“When we first started, we had maybe 20 to 30 guys a night and now are running 60 to 80.”
He’s also seen homelessness needs change drastically since he started with the organization, when the shelter housed mostly middle-aged men battling alcohol addictions.
“Now we’re seeing from teenagers to seniors,” said Benson.
“We’re seeing a lot more addiction issues, mental health issues, so the whole scope of homelessness has really changed over the last 20 years. It’s very complex.”
That issue, in recent years, has spiraled out of control, leading to tent cities in the downtown core.
The City of Kelowna deemed it a crisis, and in 2018 implemented the Journey Home Strategy, which identified the need to build 300 supportive housing units over a five-year period.
The majority of those units have either been built or are under construction, but the need for more continues to grow.
“Housing is continuously a problem,” said Rempel. “It used to be that somebody would come and stay at the shelter, they’d be here a month, maybe two before a caseworker team would find them housing.
“Now it’s becoming a year or two before we can find them a place.”
That’s a problem the Journey Home Strategy is aiming to solve.
As for Benson, he said he’s proud to have watched the Gospel Mission grow and expand its facility and programs to meet the increased needs over the years.
“The Mission has grown to be an important part of the city’s culture,” said Benson.
“I think when I started, nobody knew about the Gospel Mission and we were a mom-and-pop kind of an organization, and we’ve grown to be an important part dealing with homelessness in our city and I’m thankful for that.”