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BC Housing says it understands 'immediate need' for shelters

BC Housing says it plans to announce new operators for its two winter shelters in downtown Kamloops soon, but the locations will remain closed throughout the weekend.
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ASK Wellness volunteer Jason Gérard (right) is among others who handled out winter clothing and hot chilli and sandwiches to people living on the streets in front of city hall on Thursday afternoon during the city's first snowfall of the season.

BC Housing says it plans to announce new operators for its two winter shelters in downtown Kamloops soon, but the locations will remain closed throughout the weekend.

Winter arrived in Kamloops on Thursday, two days after the municipality failed to reach city council’s goal of having winter shelters open at the former Stuart Wood elementary and Lorne Street yacht club, with snow and frigid temperatures descending upon the city.

Environment Canada is calling for a mix of rain and snow this weekend, with lows around the freezing mark, before dipping to -9 C on Monday night. 

The local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association was expected to operate two winter shelters in Kamloops this year, but pulled out in mid-October.

The Loop drop-in centre opted to open overnight on Thursday and sheltered 25 people, ranging from 19 to 79 years old. Social agency volunteers from groups such as The Loop and ASK Wellness were outside city hall earlier in the day on Thursday afternoon as snow flew, serving food and trying to facilitate shelter for people camped in the area of the Overlanders statue and picnic tables.

Loop organizer Glenn Hilke told KTW he is not sure the organization will be able to continue operating an overnight shelter and is soliciting donations in an effort to pay people to run the facility as a shelter through the weekend. 

“It would be definitely doable if we had funding,” Hilke said, adding they need about $1,500 to pay staffing over the weekend. Hilke said anyone wishing to donate to that effort can send an e-transfer email to kcmtloop@gmail.com.

BC Housing communications director Laura Mathews told KTW shelter operators for the Kamloops sites are near confirmation and an announcement to media will follow. 

“It is increasingly unsafe for anyone to be sleeping outdoors as temperatures in Kamloops continue to dip,” Mathews said. “We understand the immediate need to open new indoor shelter spaces and are working as quickly as possible to get sites up and running safely, as finding a shelter operator with capacity and skilled staff to support this vulnerable population is challenging.”

Mathews noted BC Housing has the sites and funding secured, but the delay has been finding experienced operators with capacity to take on the sites.

In response to cold temperatures in the forecast next week, ASK Wellness announced Friday it is opening two warming stations at its Crossroads Inn building at 569 Seymour St. And at Spero House, located at 317 Tranquille Road next week.

The stations will be open from Monday (Nov. 7) to Friday (Nov. 11) and will operate 24 hours per day, contingent on there being enough staffing available, the non-profit said in a press release. Donations of winter clothing and blankets are being requested and can be dropped off at either warming station or the ASK Wellness location at 433 Tranquille Rd.

The Loop opened overnight for about three weeks last winter during a cold snap toward the end of the year. Hilke said they were able to obtain a provincial health services grant to do so, which they will be applying for again, but isn’t available at the moment. He said he intends to reach out to BC Housing to seek possible emergency funding.

For more information about where to find indoor shelter spaces that are currently operating in Kamloops, BC Housing advises people visit its shelter map: Home Page - BcHousing Shelter.

KTW reached out to the city for comment. 

SOCIAL AGENCIES SPEAK OUT

A group of social agencies in the Kamloops and Okanagan areas issued an open letter to mayors and councils, BC Housing and Interior Health on Friday, calling for change and action on the issues of homelessness and winter shelters.

The letter is signed by the Kamloops chapter of ASK Wellness, Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society, John Howard Society of Okanagan & Kootenay, Kelowna Gospel Mission, Penticton and District Society for Community Living and the Turning Points Collaborative Society.  

In the letter, the social agencies stated the temporary winter shelter model is: under resourced, burning out workers and purposeless in solving the need for permanent housing of the homelessness.

“We are tired of the futility of winter mat shelters,” the letter reads. “We are tired of seeing no meaningful outcome to the cycle of indoor cold winter shelter and outdoor summer tenting.”

It also noted an absence from Interior Health in serving this section of the public’s medical needs and passing that responsibility off on shelter operators, while providing no funding to hire qualified personnel. Other challenges include: B.C.’s labour shortage and significant training of employees to work with people in temporary shelter settings who often have complex health issues, requiring a large financial investment that doesn’t make economic sense for non-profits.

The recommendations include using hotels and motels to house the homeless over the winter, providing rent subsidies, investments in shelter diversion programs and shelter support workers and for IH to provide funding to operators for health-related positions in shelters.