The Kelowna Gospel Mission says the people who use its services need somewhere to congregate during the day—a that’s not outside its doors on the sidewalk of Leon Avenue.
So it’s planning to spend $80,000 to convert an unused building next door into an open-air courtyard, complete with greenery, benches and, what the Gospel Mission hopes will be an inviting atmosphere.
“Too often during the day the homeless, due to lack of options, are staying in places that put them at odds with the police, business owners and those who prey on the homeless,” said Benson at news conference announcing the Courtyard project Wednesday.
“Working with all of the groups and businesses represented here today, we have come up with a solution to benefit the homeless and the city of Kelowna.”
Both Benson and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran stressed the project is not an attempt to hide the issue of homelessness in the city by moving those who normally stand outside the mission into a walled off courtyard.
“Quite the opposite,” said Basran. “We think everybody deserves a sense of place.”
The Courtyard project is an partnership between the Mission, the city and the Downtown Business Association. The project has been financially kickstarted by the city, which awarded it a $10,000 grant earlier this year.
Benson said the cost to create the 2,500-square-foot courtyard works out to be about $32 per square-foot, so it is asking the public to “buy” a square-foot by making a donation equal to the cost.
The Mission has set up a web page to donate to the project at kelownagospelmission.ca.
“The Courtyard is a continuing effort of the Mission to end homelessness and support those in need,” said Benson. “Whether it is overnight shelter, a courtyard, housing solutions or the new Step-up program for men, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission is here to serve and end homelessness one person at a time.”
While it’s best known for food program, the Mission also offers a myriad of other services such as free lockers, showers, clothing and a free dental program. As a a result, there is often an overflow of people waiting to get in. And they now gather outside on the sidewalk.
While part of that issue may be alleviated now that the Mission has converted its former 4,000-square-foot thrift store space into an extension of its dining/day room, Benson said the Mission wanted to also create an inviting outdoor space where people could congregate.
The Courtyard was described as a safe place for the homeless that will also help beautify the city and help the downtown businesses.
If all goes according to plan, demolition of the building on the site of the new Courtyard could start this month and the project could be completed by the end of the summer, said Benson.
The Mission does not own the building but has permission from the owner to tear it down and use the space for the Courtyard.
The front wall of the building, with its windows onto the street, will be left standing and repainted in bright colours but the rest of the building will be torn down to create the open-air area, according to the Mission’s plan.
The Courtyard will be connected directly to the new extended Mission’s expanded dining and day area.