Local non-profits are opening two daytime hangout spaces for the homeless, on West Victoria Street downtown and near Tranquille Road in North Kamloops, for the next four months.
The spaces — dubbed The Gathering Place for the downtown location and Envision in North Kamloops — have received short-term facility use permits from the City of Kamloops.
The south shore location will be operated by the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society (KAFS) and The Mustard Seed in the parking lot on the west side of the city’s storage facility for the homeless run by KAFS, at 48 Victoria St W..
Envision will be operated by a coalition of the Canadian Mental Health Association, ASK Wellness Society, KAFS and Interior Community Services (ICS), providing a day space at 346 Campbell Ave., which is the vacant, privately owned former liquor store property behind the Northbridge Hotel.
City of Kamloops social, housing and community development manager Carmin Mazzotta said the two locations are expected to open in about a week.
“This is that safe place for folks to go where they can hang out and relax and have some water, maybe be connected to services and not feel like they are moved along or loitering,” Mazzotta said.
Both sites will have tables, tents and chairs set up for individuals in the parking lots and will be run by a pair of outreach workers and a program co-ordinator.
The Gathering Place downtown will be open from noon to 8 p.m., seven days a week and cleaned up every night after closure. Envision will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with a shuttle service offering transportation to shelters when the site closes each evening. The site will be maintained and cleaned on a nightly basis.
Mazzotta said the Campbell Avenue space in North Kamloops will be fenced in to control access and the building used for access to water and washrooms.
The Gathering Place downtown will essentially act as an extension of services available at the storage facility. Homeless individuals have been known to gather at a no-loitering area at the east side of the building from where the day space will be. In March, a security guard patrolling that spot became involved in an altercation with a homeless individual when he refused to leave the spot after 5 p.m.
The day spaces came together as a result of the non-profits seeking the federal government’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy grant to fund The Gathering Place.
There was similar interest to pursue a similar project on the North Shore, Mazzotta said, noting the funding setup for Envision is still being worked out, but may utilize some of the Reaching Home funds.
The North Shore location is just metres from The Loop drop-in centre at 405A Tranquille Rd. The drop-in centre has served as a space for city homeless, but has been the subject of numerous complaints related to people congregating, drug use and garbage left behind. The City of Kamloops has deemed the address a nuisance property.
The Loop is currently scaling back services after failing to secure enough funding from that federal grant program, which flows through the municipality.
Mazzotta told KTW the new day spaces are not meant to replace The Loop.
“It’s about providing day spaces that are well managed and going to be run by reputable, established, non-profit organizations in the city,” Mazzotta said.
He said there’s a few differences between the new spaces and The Loop, noting the level of site management and supports available, but stressed their creation is not about a comparison with the drop-in centre as the spaces were an identified need and there was an opportunity to provide them with the funding.
He said the need has been identified by the Reaching Home advisory board, city council, social service agencies and the community in general — that the city’s homeless need a place to go during daytime hours.
One benefit of the North Shore space, Mazzotta noted, is its location will be near amenities, but less visible from the street frontage on Tranquille while providing attendees with privacy.
Both sites will operate until November, when the cold weather sets in, but Mazzotta said the Out of the Heat/ Out of the Cold program will also be co-locating out of the Campbell Avenue day space operating throughout the winter months.
That program had previously been operating at The Loop.
There will be another round of applications for the Reaching Home grant this fall and both spaces will be up for funding again in April 2022, Mazotta said.
“At that time, we will have had some outcomes to use, some lessons learned to look at and be able to apply those lessons to any future projects,” Mazzotta said.
Nearly half of those identified in homeless count are Indigenous
The 2021 Reaching Home Point-in-Time Count conducted on April 15 and April 16 of this year identified 222 individuals as experiencing homelessness in Kamloops. Nearly 50 per cent of those assessed self-identified as Indigenous — an over-representation in the numbers as Indigenous people comprise approximately 10 per cent of Kamloops residents, according to census data.
These collaborative programs will provide culturally safe spaces and opportunities to apply an Indigenous lens in connecting people experiencing homelessness to housing and support services, a press release from the City of Kamloops stated.
Mazzotta noted the new day spaces being established downtown and on the North Shore are collaborative efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations.