Former Kamloops elementary school becomes temporary homeless shelter

On Nov.1, the Stuart Wood elementary school building will officially become a temporary homeless shelter in downtown Kamloops. The building has sat empty since June 2017.

Some residents concerned shelter will bring unsavoury crowd to the neighbourhood

Stuart Wood Elementary closed its doors in June 2017 and has sat vacant since. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

A temporary homeless shelter at the former Stuart Wood elementary school opens to the city's homeless the evening of Wednesday, Nov 1.

It will be open from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week until March 31, 2018.

The new shelter is considered the lowest barrier shelter in the city. Anyone can use it and its services, even if they're on drugs or alcohol.

Up to 50 shelter beds will be set up in the Stuart Wood school building each night. (Jennifer Chrumka/CBC)

Forty to 50 beds will be set up at night, but Christa Mullaly, the executive director of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said no one will be turned away if they're looking for somewhere to spend the night. 

Glenn Hilke, the volunteer coordinator with the Jubilee Urban Movement and Partners program, said 100 people were without shelter in the middle of winter last year.

"This [shelter] hopefully guarantees that no one will get deathly ill or die because of having to live outside," he said.

In addition to beds, hot meals will be provided twice a day on site, and there will be an intake process, so organizers can obtain information about demographics using the shelter.

Public concern

At a city council meeting on Oct. 24, Kamloops resident Patty Pernitsky publicly stated her concerns about the shelter.  

"The public playground that is there is used in the mornings and afternoons by children that are attending [a nearby school]," she said.

A bus pickup and drop-off zone is located near the site.

"We already pick up drug paraphernalia daily off the playground."

Mullaly said the CMHA and the City of Kamloops are looking into having bylaw services stop by during the overlap between kids arriving at the bus stop and people leaving the shelter in the morning. She says staff will also be on-site at the shelter, indoors and outside, to monitor any inappropriate interactions.

"Our response is "keep talking to us about what these concerns are, because, for the most part, it's going to be cold out. Nobody's hanging around," Mullaly said.  "My hope … is that we have housing by next fall, so we don't have to operate another program like this in Kamloops."

Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said Pernitsky is not the only resident who has raised concerns about the shelter.

"We have an obligation to look after those residents of the city that find themselves unable to be housed, and as cold weather approaches, this an interim solution," Christian said.

With files from Jennifer Chrumka and Daybreak Kamloops