Winter looming large for hundreds sleeping along Kelowna's Rail Trail

Winter looms for homeless

Madison Reeve

Sandra Hall has been living on the streets for over a decade.

Hall, now in her 50s, spent many years on the streets in Penticton before she made her way to Kelowna three years ago.

She says winter has been the most challenging season for her, and with colder mornings already arriving, she says she is bracing for what's to come.

"It's hard pushing a buggy in the winter. That's why my toes are all screwed up. I try to stay warm, but there are no guarantees. I take blankets. I go up in doorways of stores, which isn't the best idea... on the sidewalk."

The Kelowna Rail Trail is the city’s designated camping site for the unhoused. Hundreds of people live there, a figure that has about doubled in the last year.

Zdenka Brandshw works at Kelowna Steel Fabricators, directly beside the rail trail encampment.

She says the business has paid a price because of its proximity to camp.

"Our biggest concern is that we have had materials stolen multiple times, and we've had little pulley trailers stolen. We have called the police here and bylaw. We have never had any kind of response back."

Kelowna's Gospel Mission, with support from the City of Kelowna and the Uptown Rutland Business Association, announced Thursday the launch of "community coaching workshops" for local businesses.

The workshops aim to give businesses training on how to respond with kindness to the impacts of homelessness.

“Our team was very pleased to take part in this pilot workshop to gain a better understanding of the factors and challenges the unhoused are facing while also learning practical tips and tactics on how to deal with someone in distress and keep our businesses safe for our teams and members,” says Jassie Kakoschke, branch manager at Valley First.

Businesses interested in the workshop can email [email protected].

Community advocate Heather Friesen says the workshops don't address the root cause of homelessness.

"You're not helping anybody because you're not advocating for housing, and that is what we need more than anything. If you don't want people to be homeless, advocate for homes. That's how we stop homelessness," she said.

"We have people who have been living at tent city for three plus years, and there is no hope in sight for them ever getting into housing because no one is advocating for it. We are advocating to help businesses get along with homeless people? Are you kidding me?" she added.

"Rent prices are through the roof. Housing prices are through the roof. It will take nothing in this city for someone to become homeless," Friesen continued.

The average one-bedroom rental in the Central Okanagan is going for $1,570 per month, according to Castanet classifieds data.

Earlier this summer, the City of Kelowna announced it was disbanding the Journey Home Society. The nonprofit was set up to combat homelessness in the city with funding from the federal government. The city said it would be bringing operations in-house and would be revealing a new plan this fall.

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