West Kelowna  

Truth about homeless

The number of homeless people living in West Kelowna is increasing and a church wants to make sure people know the truth about those people.

Parks and fleet supervisor for the City of West Kelowna said earlier this month that a number of parks in the community have been affected by broken glass, intentional damage, public defecation, urination, graffiti, camp fires and litter.

Just a few metres down from the Emmanuel Church there are at least five people who have taken shelter in the park and set up a community of tents. Jeff Bjorgan, lead pastor at Emmanuel Church said homeless people have been living in that area for years.

Sean Airth is the manager of the cold shelter program at the church and said the people that come to them are hard working and many have jobs in society.

“Our guests and the homeless community in general are very hard working, very resilient people – and I would like people to know that,” he said.

The shelter had to bump its occupancy from 10 to 15 this year, after the number of people that were showing up for their services increased.

“We were having to turn people away quite frequently which is a terribly heartbreaking thing to have to do,” he said.

Individuals who want to stay at the shelter need to arrive by 7 p.m. and respect the rules of the program.

They are then provided with a shower, a meal in the evening, laundry, a safe spot to store belongings, breakfast and a bag of lunch in the morning.  

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in homelessness, there is a housing crisis in West Kelowna and in Central Okanagan,” he said. “Vacancy rates are extremely low and if you add onto that maybe the person has developmental disabilities, maybe physical disabilities, maybe they are elderly, maybe they have pets – it becomes very hard to find a place around here.”

In the report, it stated there are unfortunate spinoffs from the Emmanuel Assembly Church’s honourable humanitarian efforts to better our community.

City staff are currently investigating solutions.

“From the people I know here I can say our guests are very kind people, respectful, I can think of five of them who leave here and go right to their jobs first thing in the morning. Some of our other guests have developmental disabilities and some of our guests here are elderly,” he said.

Airth said he believes the shelter is part of the solution and does help people. The church is planning on speaking to city council about their report on March 28 at 8 p.m.

“I don’t think we are doing enough,” said Airth. “I’d like to do more.”

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