Flood evacuees contribute to Kelowna Gospel Mission's bed shortage

Shelters completely filled

Madison Erhardt

Kelowna's Gospel Mission says they are desperately seeking another temporary shelter as the cold weather looms.

Executive director for the Gospel Mission, Carmen Rempel says they have seen a dramatic increase in people seeking shelter and support.

She says even more people are living on the street compared to 2019.

The Mission says the increase is due to a number of factors, including that people who are experiencing homelessness in flooded areas have made their way to Kelowna.

Rempel says people were loaded up into buses and sent to either Kamloops or Kelowna.

"We had a few stragglers that were found by RCMP, so they got brought here as well."

A total of 12 people from Merritt arrived in Kelowna.

"All of these poor Merritt evacuees show up here and all of our shelters are full. They are at capacity. Some were put in hotel rooms and are doing well there. Some require extra support so they didn't thrive in that space. So they did end up finding their way to shelters or they are sheltering outside on the streets of Kelowna."

Rempel says she is very worried about what will happen when the cold weather hits in possibly days or weeks.

"I have missed more than a few nights of sleep over it thinking about all the folks who are outside as it gets colder. It is a really dangerous situation."

"The reality is some people get so desperate that they act out in a way that puts them in lock up for the winter time so that they can spend the winter in prison just to be warm. Others will access the services at the hospital in order to stay warm."

Another contributing factor to the increase in shelter use has been COVID-19.

"We have got a lot of working poor people who are precariously housed and vulnerable and who have lost jobs and suddenly find themselves relying on the homeless shelter."

Rempel says they haven't had luck securing an additional winter shelter because real-estate in Kelowna is very hard to come by.

"It is a very specific facility that we would need. It needs to have enough space, bathrooms, showers because of the temporary nature of the winter shelters it needs to be a place that wouldn't need a whole lot of construction. It has to be pretty ready to go."

At the same time, "there are very few owners who would be happy to have their place rented out by a shelter," Rempel added.

Rempel says a shelter would be needed from now until March 2022.

For more information head to kelownagospelmission.ca.

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