Both fire and ice a risk to life for those living on Kelowna’s streets – Kelowna News

Madison Erhardt

With overnight lows in Kelowna dropping to -25 C this week, those living on the streets are struggling to stay warm.

Over the past several weeks, firefighters say they have seen a surge in calls related to fires in tents.

“Obviously, people do want to stay warm, but with that warmth is inherent dangers such as fire being inside a polly-based tent as well as carbon monoxide if they are using fossil fuels to warm themselves,” said fire prevention officer Paul Johnson.

Johnson says the increase in tent fires is a part of a general increase in calls this year.

“Our call volume is up 2,000 calls over last year,” he said.

“We are very empathetic for some of these calls because our mandate is life safety and life safety is either effects from the cold or effects from the fire. So we are caught in the middle,” Johnson added.

Kelowna Gospel Mission executive director Carmen Rempel says a team is out on the streets three times a day, every day, to help those in need.

“We provide three hot meals to people who are experiencing homelessness. While we are out there we are also distributing warmers for people’s hands and all sorts of cold weather essentials.”

Rempel says quite often as the temperature drops people resort to whatever means possible to stay warm.

“We do see people using propane heaters in spaces that are inappropriate for propane heaters. We see people making very creative tent forts with different staged entrances to try to retain the heat inside,” she said.

“We see people who choose to bunk with each other and share space to keep each other warm and of course, we see, people, when they run out of propane and other options then they will start fires in order to stay warm.”

“We had one of our folks right in front of us start a fire and he actually burnt his face and had to go to the hospital. It has immediate health and safety concerns for people.”

Both the Leon and Bay avenue shelters are full, but Rempel says people can come into either shelter and stay by the entrance for 30 minutes to warm up. All shelters in the city are at capacity.

The City of Kelowna announced Monday it has extended its emergency warming bus program until Saturday.

The program will run from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., an expansion of previous overnight hours.

The city says it has secured 27 insulated tents and are currently working to have them delivered to Kelowna.

“We are continuing to meet with community groups and individuals who are working to find more long-term solutions to help our vulnerable population during the cold months,” said mayor Tom Dyas.

“For the time being, we’re working on a number of fronts including extended warming bus hours and insulated tents to help people sheltering outside during this extreme weather event.”

People living outside can also warm up at the Parkinson Recreation Centre, the Metro Central Drop-in Centre on St. Paul Avenue and the Kelowna Library downtown.

Leave a Comment