Kelowna could see 100 more people left homeless by next winter

100 more homeless?

The executive-director of the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society says the homeless population in Kelowna could grow by another 100 people by the time next winter rolls around.

Stephanie Gauthier says the affordability crisis is pushing more and more people to the brink.

She says it’s happening in communities across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that CERB and other benefits have ended, people in lower wage jobs find themselves over-extended.

“Even communities like Calgary and Edmonton that were historically seeing reductions in homelessness pre-COVID have seen dramatic increases in chronic homelessness," says Gauthier.

"Right now, the national average is around a 46 per cent increase in chronic homelessness across Canada as a direct result of COVID and then, obviously, compounded by inflationary pressures."

She points out that while the City of Kelowna is correct in saying that there has been an increase in rental housing over the past few years, most of it is out of reach for people who are teetering on the edge of homelessness.

Gaultier says Journey Home research has found the number of units renting from $1,250 to more than $2,000 a month has grown by leaps and bounds. On the other hand, Kelowna has seen a net loss of more than 2,500 rental units that cost less than $1,250 a month.

Wages, in many cases, are not keeping up with rising costs.

“We see it across our community. There’s a help wanted or a now hiring sign on every other window, but people can’t afford to work for that wage and live in our community. The cost of living here needs to be reflected in what employers are paying staff," she said.

“That’s easy to say when business costs increase as well. But the reality is, the two go hand-in-hand and we have a lot of working poor.”

Gaulthier adds that literally thousands of households every month are at risk of falling into homelessness.

“Between street and shelters right now we have about 400 people that are visibly homeless and nothing is down the pipe right now to get these folks housed when it comes to different levels of investment," she said.

Journey Home is projecting 100 more people will be living on the streets by the winter of 2023/2024 unless solutions are found. Gauthier says that’s not healthy for the community as a whole.

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