“I would not be alive if I didn’t have a place to stay right now,” said Vince Bajer, a sobering admission from someone who is experiencing homelessness in Kelowna.
Bejar is staying at the former Daily Courier newspaper building, which has been transformed into a winter shelter.
“I hear there’s more room available for people, I’m just thankful I have a place to stay right now,” Bajer said.
As the Okanagan settles into what will likely be the coldest week of the year, reaching temperatures of -20 C and beyond, temperatures can be deadly for people experiencing homelessness, if they can’t find shelter space.
Available shelter space is not as big of an issue as it’s been in the past, according to the Kelowna Gospel Mission.
“The City of Kelowna has done a phenomenal job with BC Housing and Journey Home, making sure we have quite a bit more space this winter for more people to come inside,” said Carmen Rempel, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission’s executive director.
You would think because of the pandemic it would be harder to provide shelter services to those in need, due to social distancing issues, but the mission says the pandemic has had an opposite effect.
“COVID-19 is a bit of a blessing in disguise, when it comes to homelessness, because it’s actually released a lot of extra funding,” said Rempel.
“We’ve been able to open up extra shelter sites.”
Even with the extra shelters around Kelowna, the John Howard Society said getting everyone inside is the priority, especially during this cold winter snap.
“If we can’t get people indoors, people resort to all kinds of coping strategies to stay warm, including drinking,” said Patricia Bacon, John Howard Society’s Okanagan executive director.
“From a harm reduction lens, we want to get them indoors.”
With frigid temperatures, the Kelowna Gospel Mission and the John Howard Society are asking the public for cold-weather clothing donations.
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