Report shows need for support of homeless in Kelowna is growing

Help for Kelowna homeless

Kelowna’s Journey Home Society says despite its success in recent years getting more than 300 units of supportive housing build to help the city’s homeless, hundreds more units will be needed over the next few years if it’s to meet its goal of ending homelessness by 2025.

In a presentation to Kelowna city council Monday to mark the midway point in the society’s five-year plan, executive director Stephanie Gauthier said issues such as rising rental costs, the transition of housing into short-term rentals, development and “renovictions,” as well as the city’s fast-growing population and rising cost of living are pushing up the number of homeless in the city.

According to Journey Homes projections, the number of homeless in Kelowna could rise as high was 897 people by 2026 (without additional supports) and 516 new supportive housing units will be required by that time. In 2019, when work started on the Journey Home strategy, the estimate was 300 units of supportive housing would be needed by 2023.

While that number has grown, Gauthier said currently there are no new supportive housing units planned for the city. Still, she described the multi-pronged approach the society is taking to achieve its goal of what it calls “functional-zero” homelessness by 2025, as successful to date.

The report she presented to city council listed significant progress in areas such as innovation, lived experience, backbone co-ordination and partnerships and moderate success in areas such as reconciliation, inclusion and prevention and housing and supports.

“We’ve set ambitious but realistic targets to reach functional zero by the end of 2025,” said Gauthier. “The landscape of poverty and homelessness has changed since the Journey Home Strategy was released in 2018 and this report is an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus our efforts to address homelessness.”

The Journey Home Strategy Mid-Term Report charts a future through the end of 2025, with development in a modelling tool to better predict supportive housing demand. Supportive housing would provide stable homes for people experiencing or are at risk of homelessness.

The report lays out a series of milestones over the next three years, including the seeking of a functional end to veteran homelessness by September 30, 2023, and connecting 90 per cent of people visibly experiencing homelessness to services by the end of 2024.

She said data collection and analysis are becoming increasingly important to the society and a “by-name” system of accounting for each homeless person in the city will proceed this year. That, she said, will help provide accurate, up-to-date information, not only on the number of homeless but what their needs are. The information will also help local agencies work together and co-ordinate to find the right resources and supports needed for each homeless person, as opposed to trying to find a one-size-fits-all blanket solution.

The increased numbers caught the attention of councillors.

“The numbers are somewhat daunting but the needs are great,” said Coun. Luke Stack.

Questioned by Mayor Colin Basran about public perception the Journey Home strategy may not be working because of the growing number of homeless and housing needed according to the report, Gauthier she feels the strategy is, in fact, working.

She noted that without the 318 units of social housing built in the last four years in the city, the number of homeless people in Kelowna in March 2021 would have been 700 higher than it was. It is estimate there will be 472 homeless in Kelowna this year.

She said Kelowna does not want to be a community that only welcomes the rich.

“We don’t want to be that community,” she said. “Setting a record for highest rental increases is not something we want. Home ownership should not be reserved for (the richest) 10%.”

The society, which is seeking charitable status from the Canadian Revenue Agency, makes the investments it does, she added, because it is committed to ending homelessness.

While the amount of supportive housing units still needed in the city was described as “shocking” by Coun. Mohini Singh, she and her council colleagues praised the work the Journey Home Society is doing and pledged to continue supporting it. But a few said they would like to see it become financially self-sustaining sooner rather than later.

Gauthier said the city currently provides about 50 per cent of the society’s annual $500,000 operating budget revenue. The rest of the budget comes from grants and donations.

In the last two years, the federal Reaching Home program has given $2.6 million to agencies across Kelowna to support homelessness efforts, particularly over COVID. Those funds were distributed through program grants across agencies locally that provided outreach, shelter and housing services.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran believes Journey Home has accomplished much in the past three years, and said there's a reason for optimism moving forward.

“Homelessness can be addressed. It’s been tackled in other communities and, with this refreshed strategy from Journey Home, I’m sure we will see even greater successes moving forward,” said Basran.

Gauthier said other communities across Canada are watching how Kelowna is addressing homelessness and consider it a leader. Some, she said, are even looking at emulating the approach Kelowna is taking.

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