A new winter shelter for the homeless population opened in Kelowna on Monday morning and it filled up very quickly.
“An hour and a half after opening, we’re full,” said Joe Harrison, shelter manager.
The Doyle Avenue shelter is located in the former Kelowna Daily Courier newspaper building and is being run by the Gospel Mission.
“A month ago, our team wandered around this place in the dark, using our flashlights because we didn’t have any power and it was just an empty warehouse,” said Carmen Rempel, Gospel Mission executive director.
The site has been transformed into a 40-bed shelter.
Each person has their own sleeping pod and locker. The pods not only offer some privacy but separation during the pandemic.
The pods are spaced out with half-walls between people.
There are also washroom and shower facilities on-site, and three meals will be served there every day to help meet the needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable people.
“There’s such an intense need in Kelowna to address homeless people,” Harrison said. “The winter is coming and so people need a place to sleep.”
Despite three permanent shelters in the city — Cornerstone, Gospel Mission and Welcome Inn — there were still dozens of people sleeping outside,
“A shelter like this is absolutely critical,” Rempel told Global News. “This is Kelowna. It gets cold here, dangerously cold here, and so a place like this saves lives, literally.”
The shelter’s opening comes a lot earlier than last winter when securing a space proved challenging.
Read more: Urgent appeal for winter shelter in Kelowna
It wasn’t until Jan. 1 that an emergency shelter opened, leaving many to struggle in the cold.
At this time last year, a large tent city was erected on grounds near the curling club, as many had nowhere to turn.
But with the emergency shelter now up and running, there are a lot fewer people left out in the cold.
“There’s a lot less of that heartbreaking scenario, camping out in the cold and makeshift accommodation, whether that be a tent or cardboard or whatever they’re doing,” Harrison said.
Anyone wanting to donate warm clothing for the homeless population is asked to drop it off at the Gospel Mission Thrift Store at 125 Roxby Road.
The clothing is washed and quarantined before being distributed to those in need.