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Homelessness during -20: How can we lend a hand?

During the winter, Al wakes up to the freezing winter air with only a sleeping bag and the walls of an alleyway to protect him.

“Because I have a good sleeping bag, when I first wake up I’m warm. However, at 7:30 am it’s time to move on. I don’t want to be in people’s way and bother them when they’re on the way to work. Getting out of bed sucks. I spend the rest of the day wandering around, because when you’re moving, you’re warmer. But no matter what you do, during winters like this, you can’t completely warm up.”

Tragically, Al’s daily struggle isn’t unique. During his interview with KelownaNow, Al shared stories from his friends. One of his friends is dealing with frozen fingers precariously close to frostbite because she had to push her shopping cart around without gloves. If you'd like to learn more about those who live on our streets, check out our article.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow </who>

The struggles experienced by the homeless members of our community certainly throws into perspective our winter struggles. Higher heating costs and icy roads don’t compare to frostbite and the threat of freezing to death. With that in mind, many across Kelowna are asking how they can help. KelownaNow called Gospel Mission and Inn from the Cold to see what they needed from our community.

“We’re currently open 24/7 and we’re housing an average of 110 people with 100 beds,” said Sonja Menyes, Manager of Volunteers and Development Officer at The Gospel Mission. “Just for some perspective, we were only housing approximately 80 people this time last year. This means we need help, financially and volunteer-wise.”

Sonja is asking our community to donate their money to the Gospel Mission so they can afford to house, feed, and provide for the 30 extra people they’re housing and the longer hours they’re open. As they’re also feeding more people, they need more coffee, sugar, milk, cheese or other food. As far as clothes go, they’re looking for men's small jeans, mittens and PJ bottoms.

“While we do need extra support, we would like to thank everyone for everything they have done,” said Sonja Menyes. “Our community is very good at supporting us and we’re incredibly grateful for the people who really seem to care.”

Inn from the Cold, located on Sutherland Avenue, is where Al spent a couple of hours this week warming up. As Al is ‘red zoned’ he could be arrested if he enters downtown. For those who have been red zoned, Inn from the Cold is their only option.

However, Inn from the Cold has a total capacity of 35 and can’t afford to be open all day.

“My dream is to have more space,” said Jan Schulz, Executive Director of Inn from the Cold. “For example, if a church came forward and let us use their hall for January and February, then we could help more people. With more staff and money we could also keep our space open for longer which means we wouldn’t have to push our people out at 7:30 in the morning.”

<who> Photo Credit: Inn from the Cold Facebook Page </who>

Jan and her team at Inn from the Cold are asking us to lobby the city so a semi-permanent space could be opened during January and February.

In the meantime, Inn from the Cold is also looking for a few essentials for their free store. For example, gloves, long underwear, hand warmers, blankets and sleeping bags.

“Most of the people who are on the street aren’t there because they want to be,” said Al. “Five years ago, I had a stable home and a well-paying job but some things happened in my life that brought me to where I am now. It really sucks being on the street and we’re just looking for a place to go. Anywhere. After all, sleeping on a warm floor is better than sleeping outside on the concrete.”

If you’d like to reach out to the Gospel Mission to offer your help, check out their website. If you’d like to contact Inn from the Cold, here’s their website.

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