As a former shelter worker, I was often asked “what happens if the shelter is full?”
That question comes up every day at Inn from the Cold, Kelowna’s winter homeless shelter .
“The first night we opened this year we were at 29 guests and our capacity is 35 guests. In past years, we would normally have 7 or 10 guests on the first night. On our second night, we were over capacity at 36,” says Tara Tschritter, IFTC Coordinator.
Like all shelters, Inn from the Cold staff and volunteers are masters of re-shuffling to maximize space. They are quick to commend the good work of other shelters, and are enthusiastic about their many partnerships.
“We try to reserve beds for emergency late night referrals, and redirect to other shelters if they have space. It’s been so hard this year because we’ve just seen such a huge demand, so many people walking through the door,” she explains.
The Shelter itself is open from November through April each year, but the other programs (Inn Home Support and Outreach) are offered year-round. With only 3 year-round employees (more are hired in the winter season), there is heavy reliance on volunteers to keep operations running smoothly.
Home-cooked meals, prepared and served by volunteers every night, are one way that Inn from the Cold cares for guests. The volunteer groups include service clubs (such as Ogopogo Rotary), as well as book clubs, church groups and other individuals. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, the meal is provided by the Salvation Army.
Ultimately, this organization seeks to keep people from falling through cracks in the system. They know that an effective support network is the key to finding, and maintaining, housing that is safe and affordable.
Tara shares an example of a client dealing with major dental issues that prevented her from eating. $800 of the dental work was not covered by income assistance, and the woman would have had to use her rent money to cover the cost. Fortunately, she opened up about these challenges to her Inn Home Support volunteer. The Inn Home Support Coordinator and her Outreach Worker at the Canadian Mental Health Association were able to work collaboratively and find her the resources she needed, so that she could get her teeth fixed without losing her home.
The Inn Home Support Program trains volunteer advocates to support those who are at risk of losing their housing. Those who sign up to volunteer are matched to a client based on shared interests, type of support needed, and availability. Volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of one year. So far, the program has helped 98% of clients retain their housing by helping with navigating systems, building support networks, problem-solving, and reducing social isolation.
“The thing I love about it is community coming together to help community – not trying to fix people together through programming. It’s very empowering,” says Tara.
Inn from the Cold started more than a decade ago, after a “tent city” formed in Kelowna. Modeled after a program in Calgary, it was organized and hosted by churches as a mat program that moved around to different sites. However, Inn from the Cold programs and services are not faith-based. In 2007, the organization found their home on Sutherland Avenue (near the Capri Centre Mall), was granted charitable status, and hired their first staff.
Preparing for winter.
Inn from the Cold receives some funding through the Service Canada Homeless Partnering Strategy, but most of their operations are provided through community donations and volunteers. Their goal is to find creative ways to make the Shelter, Outreach and Inn Home Support programs sustainable.