Alina Turner, a consultant hired to guide the work of the task force set up by the City of Kelowna to develop a plan to address homelessness in the city addresses council Monday as task force co-chair Martin Bell looks on.—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Consultant puts Kelowna homeless count close to 2,000

The true number is much higher than previously reported in a snapshot survey

The consultant hired to lead Kelowna’s ambitious bid to end homelessness says the number of people in the city who experience homelessness throughout the year is roughly 1,900, much higher than a snapshot survey of the homeless identified nearly two years ago.

In February of 2016, a Point In Time survey—which Alina Turner described as exactly that, a point in time picture—identified 233 people as homeless in Kelowna, 60 per cent of whom were considered “chronically homeless.”

But Turner, who has worked with cities across the country to develop plans to address homelessness, said the real number here is much higher, closer to 2,000.

She gave city council an update of the plan Monday, saying work has been ongoing by the task force that the city created to spearhead its Journey Home plan since last fall.

And she said the task force is on track to have a draft plan ready in April and a final plan to present to council in June after public consultation.

She said the plan will be realistic and have measurable targets, but she warned it alone will not be the silver bullet. She said dealing with the issue of homelessness will require ongoing work by the community, including the city, and lobbying efforts to convince other surrounding communities to do the same.

Related story: National organizations to aid Kelowna homelessness strategy

Because there is such a low vacancy rate in the city, funding will be needed to build affordable housing and that, she warned, will be a “considerable capital ask.”

Turner said the key will be a “housing first” strategy, where housing is considered a right, not something a homeless person has to show they are worthy of.

And in some cases, it might also require what Turned called “relentless engagement” to bring services to the homeless who do not want to go into conventional housing.

The plan could follow other communities that have had success in addressing homelessness by making sure a person identified as homeless gets into some form of housing within a few days of being identified.

Medicine Hat, AB has been pointed to as an example of success after it announced last year it had eradicated homelessness there.

But Turner said while the per capita rate of homelessness in Medicine Hat rivalled the much larger City of Calgary, it is different from Kelowna where there is a large number of people from elsewhere coming here.

That prompted Coun. Charlie Hodge to ask if the city was a victim of its own success at providing services for the homeless.

Turner said possibly, but other factors like climate are also at play. And she added, most areas with homelessness problems also have large migrant populations.

On Monday, in addition to receiving the update on the work being done by the task force, council also added another two members to the task force.

Co-chair Martin Bell told council that with one-quarter of the homeless in the city identified as Indigenous, it was felt more Indigenous representatives should be on the task force.

So a representative of the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society and the Westbank First Nation were added. The task force now has 23 members.

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