A new homeless shelter at the former Super 8 motel in Penticton has officially opened up, adding 27 new beds for what appears to be a growing issue of homelessness in the city.
Work is still being done to convert much of the motel into low-income housing, adding 42 units to Penticton’s affordable housing stock, but that’s just part of the operations that will be running out of the former motel, now called Compass Court.
Just a couple of months after council gave the project an easy pass after an uneventful public hearing in August, the Salvation Army has 27 new shelter beds set up in an area that previously housed the reception area of the motel, on top of 17 beds that are still being run out of Compass House downtown.
Although the new shelter is intended to be primarily for the winter shelter, which opens up during certain weather conditions, it will also act as an overflow space for the shelter at Compass House, and the Salvation Army made use of a few of the beds for the first time Wednesday night.
“We didn’t fill up, but probably about just under half,” said shelter operator Roger Evans.
Evans said he has noticed a lot more demand for shelter space than last year, which he said he believes to be indicative of a growing number of homeless in Penticton.
“I think there’s very definitely more need this year. Just by the number of people that are coming to our door now, and the number of people that we have been referring to our winter shelter,” Evans said.
“There just seems to be a lot more people on the street.”
South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society executive director Linda Sankey said she has also seen the number of homeless in Penticton rise significantly.
“The numbers seem almost double. Almost, not quite double from what we were dealing with last year,” Sankey said, adding the newly homeless are mostly from Penticton.
“The issues of poverty, not enough funds to cover rental costs, are pushing people into homelessness more this year than we’ve ever seen before.”
|One of the lobby areas of the newly opened Compass Court shelter on Main Street, which operator Roger Evans said he was happy to see become a more home-like environment for shelter patrons.
Mark Brett/Western News
Penticton has been facing a housing crisis in the city, with a short rental stock and a near-zero vacancy rate. A recent Western News feature highlighted the crisis with a family forced to camp in the hills above Carmi, where that family says several others of varying ages have also been forced to call home.
On Penticton Indian Band land, Laverne Jack said he is housing a couple and another man with nowhere to go on his campgrounds.
“There’s a lot of people that are trying to find spots to move indoors, but it’s all precarious housing in the sense it’s more of a couchsurfing kind of situation,” Sankey said. “Until people can actually afford their own spot or actually secure their own housing, there’s a lot of people that can’t afford it.”
Even by more than doubling the number of shelter beds with Compass Court, Evans said he’s hoping the shelter’s capacity won’t be stretched by the growing issue of homelessness as winter approaches.
“The demand is going to get heavy,” Evans said. “We’ll do a backflow to Compass House if we fill up at the shelter.”
Sankey expressed some concern the shelter would quickly fill up as sub-zero temperatures become the nighttime norm.
“I have a feeling that they’re going to very quickly be found out about in the homeless community and they’re going to be full before very long, I think,” Sankey said.
And winter weather is effectively here — according to Environment Canada Penticton was expected to dip down to -3C Thursday night and between -4 C and -9 C through the weekend, with snow also in the forecast.
Last year, operators of the shelter went to council asking for guidance on when to open the shelter. Previously, the cold snap shelter had opened up when temperatures dipped to -5 and during freezing rain and snow conditions, but council endorsed pushing that temperature up to -2 C.
The request for input came after a controversial winter for the shelter the year previous, when advocates with Keep the Cold Off Penticton and others led a public outcry, calling for clearer rules on when the shelter would open.
This year, Evans said the shelter will be opening at 0 C, a decision he said was made by the community.
“I think it’s just a recognition that at zero, even with a slight wind it’s cold.”