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Kelowna Drop-In Centre out in the cold

Friday, February 12th, 2010 | 1:52 pm

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Selena Stearns and staff at the DI have begun winding down operations. (file photo)

By Marshall Jones

The Kelowna Drop In and Information Centre, a fixture of downtown for more than 20 years, will close its doors on March 31, has confirmed.

The centre, which provides meals and other services for 200 to 350 homeless people every month, has been on the cusp of closure for months and once it missed out on a round of federal and provincial cash it has depended on every year that was it, executive director Selena Stearns says.

The building was put up for sale last week and staff are winding down operations and trying to find support for its clients, some of whom have depended on the centre for meals, showers, laundry, referrals for help or just a supportive shoulder. Arliss Rawn has been a fixture at the DI, as it is known, for some five years.

“There is going to be a lot of people hungry on the streets, I know that much,” he says. Though many groups exist to help the homeless downtown, what many people don’t realize, he says, is that the DI is different. Some street people would only use the DI exclusively because of the environment. It’s called a low-barrier harm reduction centre, meaning anyone can get a basic meal or shower whether they still have active addictions or mental health issues—not always so at other organizations.

“It’s the best place in town, really,” he says. “It is really non-discriminative. That is the main thing. It’s not based on a church or something else, it’s just run by the people.”

Stearns said as the service prepares to close, her priority is staff and her board but their collective priority is clients like Rawn.

“People have always asked what would happen when the Drop In centre is not there,” she says. “We are going to find out.”

The centre has long been in a precarious position, going year to year without a single steady funding source. Individual donations have been slow in coming when it was frozen out by the Poverty and Homeless Action Team of the Central Okanagan or PHAT-CO—a local board that disseminates cash from various government sources—the writing was on the wall.

In November, Stearns expected this day would come. Since then, various potential donors have kicked the tires at the centre but no one came forward with the roughly $350,000 per year the centre needs, although that figure is a fraction of the budget of many other organizations.

“This doesn’t mean we have stopped looking for options, but we have to ensure we are being diligent and pre-emptive (in winding down operations),” she says. “I am not optimistic. There is so much going on, the Olympics, the devastation in Haiti…. The homeless, in this particular area of Kelowna, has never been looked upon with rainbows and butterflies.”

Dixon Sookraj, chair of the society that directs the centre, isn’t hopeful either.

“The present climate is one of government funding cuts and KDIC is left with few options. The full complement of six staff members has been required to both deliver a multitude of services and ensure a safe environment for service users, staff and community, so reduction of staff is not a realistic option,” he said in a statement.

He said the centre, with very little administration, overhead or funding for marketing or fund raising, does not have the resources to compete for smaller pots of money. Worse, helping the homeless isn’t a very palatable cause for many.

“Initiatives around homelessness have proven to be among the most unpopular causes, receiving very little community support,” he says.

The centre will close on six staff members, including two former clients of the centre. Professional staff were helping some 240 clients per month and up to 347. The number of meals it provides has gone from 16,704 in 2001 to 79,482 in 2009.

The building is listed for sale at over $500,000 but most of that is expected to be used to wind down the operation and perhaps a donation to another service organization.

Kelowna Drop-In Centre out in the cold3.957

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2 Responses to “Kelowna Drop-In Centre out in the cold”

  1. Don says:
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    What goes on in other countries is important,yes, but we need to take care of our home. I have spoken with many people whom the D.I. has changed or even saved their lives. What if you or a family member needed help one day?
    Come on people let’s put Kelowna first. Let’s show why Kelowna is the BEST.

  2. Jo says:
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    As a former member of the board [ volunteer basis] I have seen the amount of people needing the services at the DI .I personally used their laundry when I was homeless ,by the way, having a home doesn’t make less homeless . I really would like to send the provincial government a statement of how the drop-in has saved lives and changed peoples perception of life. LIFE IS WORTH LIVING!!Thanx for reading this .

    Please continue discussion on the forum: link

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