It’s been a mild November for the Okanagan, weather-wise, but it’s just a matter of time before temperatures plummet, creating a dangerous situation for those experiencing homelessness.
And this year, all indications are that dropping temperatures will affect more people than in years past.
“Compared to years past, this year we do have more people out on the streets as it’s getting colder,” said Carmen Rempel, executive director for the Gospel Mission.
“Even on Leon (Avenue), and we keep our street pretty clear, we’ve had more tent activity.”
According to the city nightly count, this past week saw an average of 60 people sleeping outside. That compares to just 13 at the beginning of January.
The increase in numbers is being attributed to a few factors, including those experiencing homelessness who have been displaced from flood-ravaged communities like Merritt.
“Some folks were loaded up in buses, some were taken to Kamloops and some were brought to Kelowna,” Rempel said. “So we ended up with about 12 people who have been experiencing homelessness in Merritt showing up in Kelowna and needing services.
“They were sent to different hotel rooms, some of them are doing great in those hotel rooms and some were not thriving there, and so they ended up in shelters or on the streets.”
Rempel said the big difference this year is that Kelowna is down one emergency shelter from this time last year.
Service providers have been trying to secure a site for a winter shelter, but efforts have so far been unsuccessful.
“It is absolutely a race against time and it’s not like we are surprised by winter. We’ve been working on this for months,” she told Global News.
“The reality is that real estate in Kelowna is just difficult to come by and difficult to come by somebody who would like to use their space for this specific purpose.”
Work is underway to increase capacity at existing shelters to try and provide more space for those on the streets.
“We’re adding beds to Richter Street, Cornerstone and the Doyle Avenue shelter, so all of those are in various stages of being implemented at this time,” Rempel said.
Service providers are also working on an emergency mat program to ensure everyone is sheltered during cold snaps.
While time to secure an additional winter shelter is running out, service providers have not yet given up hope.
“I’m always going hold out hope that by some miracle,” said Rempel, “a benevolent landowner who owns a commercial property would come forward and give us a space to bring people inside for wintertime.”