CMHA, city looking into second winter shelter with overcrowding

By Chad Klassen
December 6, 2017 - 3:44pm Updated: December 6, 2017 - 5:31pm

KAMLOOPS — Since the beginning of November, when the winter shelter opened up at the old Stuart Wood Elementary, there have been health and safety concerns.

While new security measures are helping to clean that up, new concerns are arising over numbers, overcrowding at the shelter that has the city and the Canadian Mental Health Association looking for another site.

"We've been pretty darn full," said Mullaly. "We've maxed out at 52 individuals coming in to stay overnight with us. 52 mats is the maximum we're allowed in this particular building, and last night we had 52, plus we had an additional eight folks come in that we didn't have mats for."

Overall, Mullaly said there have been at least 200 different people visiting, some who are historically not from Kamloops.

"We have noticed new faces, but one of the questions that we ask folks is 'how long have you been homeless in Kamloops?' What we're trying to determine by asking that question is if folks have stayed after the wildfires, or if these are Kamloops residents."

Mullaly said most of the clients are Kamloops residents. But an overpopulation at the shelter has prompted talk from the city and CMHA to look into a second shelter.

"Actively looking with our partners for another site that we could open up just in the winter time to keep people safe and warm," noted Kamloops mayor Ken Christian. 

For now, CMHA is in the process of getting approval from the fire department to put more beds into an old classroom. 

"Now you can imagine coming in at midnight to think there is going to be a bed for you and there's not is kind of upsetting," said Mullaly. "So we're working with Kamloops Fire Rescue to add more mats into another building on the property."

CMHA Kamloops doesn't know exactly how many more mats will be permitted by KFR, but the city feels another site is necessary. There is talk about one on the North Shore, which would be convenient, Mullaly said, for the homeless who can't make it over the bridge. 

A site on the North Shore would also quiet concerns from the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association. 

"We heard yesterday form the KCBIA that they have concern about concentration of social services on the South Shore and that's a legitimate concern," said Christian. "But we have a big problem, and the city has responded. We have bylaw officers there in the morning and afternoon to make sure school children are kept safe. We have our parks and recreation crews making sure sharps are disposed of properly and there's not a risk of needle stick injuries. We're doing what we can."

For Mullaly, having homeless people downtown is the nature of having services on the South Shore. 

"When social services clump together, we make it easier for our clients to access us. We make it easier to support each other as well," she said. "I have no doubt that there are people heading downtown when they leave here. In lieu of having housing, people are going to be spending their time in public space. That's just the reality of it. If someone doesn't have a place to go, with a door that they can lock, their only other option is to be in public space." 

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