Housing is the first step in the journey to healing for any marginalized population, BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay said during the Chamber of Commerce’s Okanagan College Series luncheon on Tuesday afternoon.
And, in Kelowna’s tight and expensive housing market, accommodations can be hard to come by.
Housing prices are up 32 per cent since 2014, rent is up more than 26 per cent and the city is well below the healthy vacancy rate of three per cent, according to Ramsay.
He went on to say the significant population growth in Kelowna has also put a lot of pressure on the existing housing stock.
Ramsay said since 2016, Kelowna has seen a 23 per cent increase, or nearly 300 people, experiencing homelessness. Foster care and group homes have also seen a significant boost, many of which are aging out when they turn 19 and in turn, face homelessness.
BC Housing projects, such as the controversial supportive housing development slated for McCurdy Road, are created to remedy this by providing safe and affordable housing for people facing a variety of circumstances, including homelessness, domestic violence and youth aging out of foster care and group homes.
“We will take a lot of responsibility for the lack of information and process around McCurdy,” Ramsay said.
Following a special City of Kelowna council meeting held on July 17, Mayor Colin Basran informed a packed council chamber that BC Housing and the B.C. Minister of Housing Selina Robinson have agreed to make the McCurdy Road house a facility that will not tolerate the use of drugs or alcohol on site.
The change to the operational model in McCurdy was possible due to the “range of other options in Kelowna,” Ramsay said.
“There is 10 other accessible supportive housing development,” he said—“accessible” being his choice word for facilities that allow for drugs and alcohol on site —also known as a “wet” facility.
Ramsay noted other significant changes to the operational model include additional staff in the form of in-house nursing staff seven days a week. The demand of the nurses’ time will be determined by monitoring the needs of the McCurdy residents, he added.
And those health-care needs will likely be higher for those who have spent a greater amount of time living on the streets, he said.
“People will tell you when you are recovering from addictions, you will always be recovering from it.”
Low-barrier homes are important to many individual recovery journeys as addictions is a “one step forward, two steps back” process, Ramsay explained.
“It’s about getting the information and the results of our research out there,” he said.
Reviews are completed six months into any new operation and Ramsay said it works. Findings have shown significant improvements in residents including using fewer drugs, getting into detoxification programs and connecting with services.
“Bringing them inside, stabilizing their lives and giving them a meal allows that to happen,” he said. “And if you don’t do it, it’s really hard to connect with a person who is living in a doorway.
These are folks that live in our communities,” he said. “(Housing) provides the first step to allow them to heal.”
Another BC Housing project planned for McIntosh Road will come before council in August seeking a development permit.