A member of the Okanagan community’s most vulnerable is asking B.C. Housing to keep temporary winter shelters open.
The shelters, which were put up in response to the brutal cold snap the Okanagan experienced, are scheduled to close down on Mar. 31. But some who are currently staying in the shelters are asking the province to keep them open, especially as COVID-19 makes its presence known.
Natasha Chance currently lives at the temporary winter shelter on Stevens Road in West Kelowna. She has been on the streets since she aged out of the foster care system. She said she was able to find affordable housing at some point but was kicked out two years ago after getting a therapy cat. Now, she’s asking the province to keep temporary shelters open past Mar. 31.
“I was living in Cornerstone and then I was supposed to go into Fuller, but there was some miscommunication so I lost the housing I was going to get,” Chance said.
“It’s been really hard… I’m probably going to a motel once the shelter closes, but that probably won’t work. But that’s my only choice besides being on the street.”
She said many at the Stevens Road shelter and Welcome Inn are worried about what will happen to them once their current shelters close.
“Please keep them open for the people who aren’t getting any housing. If this closes, we’re being given tents and they’re trying to figure out food… but they’re expecting us to go to a camp.”
In a statement, the West Kelowna Shelter Society’s operations manager Kevin Hill said the next few months will be difficult, especially as the community navigates around COVID-19.
“With all the restaurants closed, the homeless are especially at risk during this time, and we are doing our best to provide meals for not just our residents, but all of the homeless in Kelowna,” he wrote.
Hill also wrote that not all of the temporary winter shelters will be closed, as select few will remain open throughout the province.
B.C. Housing said it is currently working with community partners in West Kelowna to find another suitable shelter space for those who may be affected by the closure.
Due to the fluid nature of the current pandemic, B.C. Housing’s senior communications advisor Matthew Borghese said they’re working on a case by case basis with each municipality to determine if they have the capacity to keep the temporary shelters open for longer.
The City of West Kelowna’s chief administrative officer Paul Gipps said they have very few provincially-backed supportive housing in the community, which is why they’re leaning heavily on B.C. Housing to have a solution for the situation.
“We’re a young city, and we don’t quite have the space for another shelter,” he said.
“We’re working very closely with B.C. Housing on this one, getting permits done, streamlining, identifying sites, everything.”