City and agencies working to keep up with demand for shelter beds

'We’re continuously talking about opportunities, but that is a very tricky area to find opportunities,' city social and community developer Natalie Serl said

Shelter beds continue to fall short of demand in Kamloops, the city’s social and community development supervisor has told council.

Natalie Serl provided an update to council last week on social housing, detailing the shortage of 110 emergency shelter beds.

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Thirty beds recently came online this month at the Mustard Seed New Life Community Kamloops — but it’s still not enough. Serl said a shelter action team, consisting of city staff, shelter providers and BC Housing, meets regularly to address short and long-term solutions.

“We’re continuously talking about opportunities, but that is a very tricky area to find opportunities,” Serl said.

BC Housing announced in 2018 to 2019 $63 million worth of housing projects, however those investments are related primarily to long-term housing goals.

Investment in emergency shelters is unknown. Those long-term solutions are expected to help alleviate shelter demand, however construction of modular housing units, for example, downtown and in North Kamloops were delayed, adding further stress on the shelter system.

When all housing projects are completed, supportive and subsidized housing needs in the city are expected to be met and exceeded, according to city numbers. Currently, the city has 353 units of supportive housing, needs 125 more and has 178 en route, courtesy a Brocklehurst project for first nations youth, modular permanent housing on Victoria Street and on Tranquille Road for those transitioning from the streets and seniors housing at Spirit Square in North Kamloops.

As for subsidized housing, the city has 826 units, needs 197 more and will have 303 more, with the completion of six more projects due to begin this year.

“When we look at the long-term solutions, that certainly is the investment we’re seeing in housing,” Serl told KTW.

“Right now, we’re in a situation where we have housing coming on board and once those beds are available, those units are available, people will be able to move in and hopefully that will level off that level of demand on the emergency sheltering services. It takes time to build the housing. We’re right now in this overlap of time. Our demands still outweigh the number of beds in terms of emergency shelter services, but there’s that investment in the long-term solutions that are being made.”

While the long-term goal is to provide permanent housing, Serl said emergency shelters play a critical role.

“They provide immediate housing relief and services to people experiencing homelessness or for women and children fleeing violence,” she said. “As the housing inventory increases, the need for emergency shelters should level, but looking at the numbers as of right now, the demand clearly outweighs the availability.”

The city acts as a facilitator to address housing affordability, which includes working with partners (non-profits, developers and BC Housing), acquiring land to lease below market value to non-profits and monitoring housing trends.

KTW is awaiting comment from BC Housing.

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