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Coronavirus pandemic prompting more emergency shelter spaces to open in Kelowna

Click to play video: 'Another winter shelter opens in Kelowna due in large part to COVID-19' Another winter shelter opens in Kelowna due in large part to COVID-19
Another winter shelter opens in Kelowna due in large part to COVID-19 – Jan 22, 2021

A third emergency shelter to accommodate those experiencing homelessness is about to open in Kelowna.

The Richter Street shelter is set to officially open on Feb. 1 at the former site of Tree Brewing.

“It’s going to be a 38-bed shelter,” said Caitlin McKenny, shelter site manager.

The shelter is being funded by B.C. Housing and will be operated by the Turning Points Collaborative Society.

Read more: Winter shelter opens in Kelowna, quickly reaches maximum capacity

“We are going to be able to provide meals,” said McKenny.

“There’s also going to be 24-hour staff here that will be available for the clientele to reach out to and be able to receive services through other community programs that run in the community. We also will have a social worker on site.”

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In December, an emergency 40-bed shelter opened at the former Kelowna Daily Courier building on Doyle Avenue. And prior to that, the 39-bed Welcome Inn shelter opened its doors at the former food bank site on Ellis Street.

This is in stark contrast to what happened last winter, when finding suitable sites for winter shelters proved challenging.

Click to play video: 'UBCO Research find homeless face pressure to perform to access help' UBCO Research find homeless face pressure to perform to access help
UBCO Research find homeless face pressure to perform to access help – Jan 21, 2021

But this season, the added pressure of COVID-19 has prompted government officials to take swifter action.

“With the pandemic going on, people are experiencing financial crisis, they’re experiencing family problems,” said McKenny.

“So we are receiving a lot more need from other people that weren’t previously experiencing homelessness needing shelter.”

The pandemic has also increased the need for more emergency beds in the city because permanent shelters have had to turn more people away than normal.

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“They’ve had to decrease the size of the shelters due to social distancing and proper COVID protocols,” said McKenny.

Read more: Okanagan service providers scramble to shelter homeless as temps plummet to – 30 C

In addition to more shelter spaces, those experiencing homelessness will soon have a hygiene centre they’ll be able to access as well.

The hygiene centre will be located near the Welcome Inn shelter, both operated by Metro Community.

“We have showers, we have toileting facilities, as well as laundry facilities,” said Amber Webster-Kotak, Metro Community executive director.

If all goes according to plan, the hygiene centre, which is also being funded by B.C. Housing, will be Kelowna’s first permanent hygiene facility.

Click to play video: '“A place like this saves lives” new winter shelter opens in Kelowna and quickly fills to capacity' “A place like this saves lives” new winter shelter opens in Kelowna and quickly fills to capacity
“A place like this saves lives” new winter shelter opens in Kelowna and quickly fills to capacity – Dec 1, 2020

“It’s a dignifying kind of service,” said Webster-Kotak.

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“We’re giving them an opportunity to come in and feel humanized and be prepared for whatever it is that they’re going to do .. whether it’s employment or perhaps a court appointment or another kind of appointment where you want to be cleaned up.”

The hygiene centre is slated to open in early February, and service providers are hoping to keep the momentum going with more enhanced services coming on board for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“We’re looking at expanding all of what Metro does in terms of offering hub services,” Webster-Kotak said.

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