Kelowna has become the latest city to join Hockey Helps the Homeless, an organization that puts on annual pro-am hockey tournaments in cities across the country in an effort to raise money and awareness to help combat the issue of homelessness.
Since 1996, Hockey Helps the Homeless has brought communities together through sport, inviting former NHL players to their events to attract an audience, and to face off against local celebrities or city officials.
With rapid growth to Kelowna's homeless population over the past three years, Hockey Helps the Homeless is excited to begin their work in the Okanagan region.
"I think visible homelessness in Kelowna has been increasing significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic and that is consistent with reports from organizations that are operating in Kelowna trying to tackle this issue. It's been a priority of the City of Kelowna to try and combat that issue," said Hockey Helps the Homeless senior business and development manager Emma Langlois.
The rise in the cost of living has been making life even more challenging for people to maintain stable housing. The group says that is a big reason why they wanted to make their presence known in the Okanagan.
The other reason is the city's appetite for hockey.
"Because our tournaments are about harnessing the power of sport and hockey to help raise funds and awareness for those that need it most, we need to have that hockey community, and obviously the Okanagan, and more specifically Kelowna, is a big hot spot for hockey, minor hockey and junior hockey. There’s also retired NHL pros there who are a big part of our event, so it just seemed like a natural fit," continued Langlois.
Hockey Helps the Homeless is currently in the early stages of planning for their Kelowna debut, with hopes of bringing in local players and city workers. They'll be working with BGC Okanagan in 2024.
"The Okanagan region event in Kelowna will be an eight to 10-team event ... This tournament specifically will be in support of the BGC Okanagan and their shelter diversion program. They have an award winning program that targets at-risk youth who they identify as being at a high risk of becoming homeless," said Langlois.
The first annual Kelowna Hockey Helps the Homeless game is set for April 5 at the Capital News Centre, with roster announcements to be made in 2024.