Idris Hudson is appalled with the living conditions and lack of support he’s seen at Penticton’s homeless shelters.
An activist from Penticton who has faced homelessness himself, Hudson is now calling on local and provincial politicians and policy-makers to improve the conditions and support services at local homeless shelters.
Hudson, 44, currently provides solo outreach work in Penticton to people on the street.
After a two-week stint living at a local shelter in October, Hudson has been speaking out about the harsh realities faced by people living on the street and in shelters in Penticton.
Many people in Penticton choose to live on the street over shelters to avoid the drug-fueled environment, Hudson said. According to Hudson, the lack of support at shelters is adding more barriers to recovery for people experiencing homelessness.
“I’ve taken kids there (to shelters) and then I’ve seen them on the street two days later and they’re like ‘are you kidding? I can’t be there, I’m trying to get away from those drugs,’” Hudson said.
“People like BC Housing are just pounding these people into bedrooms and then not doing anything with them. I think BC Housing is wonderful for stepping up and taking it on but there’s a level of care that needs to be added.”
Hudson would like to see the provincial government increase funding for homeless shelters. According to Hudson, the road to recovery would be more viable for drug addicted individuals if shelters employed medical professionals and addictions counselors.
Tony Laing, executive director of Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL), agrees that there should be more support from trained professionals at shelters and supportive housing units. PDSCL oversees multiple shelters and supportive housing facilities in Penticton.
However, shelters can’t control what kind of health care services they are able, or unable, to provide. Laing would like to see the health care system “step up” and provide more support.
“I would agree that we could use higher professional level support with health care professionals but that would be an Interior Health issue, not a shelter issue really,” Laing said.
“I think everybody agrees that more supports are required but it’s not just BC Housing that can provide those. BC Housing is not a health care provider… everybody wants better health care whether you’re homeless or not.”
PDSCL is funded by BC Housing.
The Western News contacted BC Housing in regards to this story but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Penticton city council has voiced their own concerns about how BC Housing has handled the handful of homeless shelters and supportive housing facilities in Penticton.
Council recently asked for an audit of three BC Housing supportive housing units in Penticton. The properties council wants audited include Compass Court on Main Street, Burdock House on Winnipeg Street, and Fairhaven on Skaha Lake Road.
Council would like to see the audit completed before any new BC Housing projects come to Penticton, including the supportive housing project on Skaha Lake Rd.
Hudson said it’s much more challenging to be homeless in Penticton now compared to his experience with homelessness in Vancouver in the late 2000s.
“When I was on the street, there was a path to treatment. It wasn’t just throwing me into a building where there’s fentanyl dealers and letting me have at it,” he said. “Granted, we didn’t have fentanyl back then. If people were doing drugs they were just doing drugs. They weren’t overdosing and dying everywhere.”
In addition to better medical support, Hudson would also like to see shelters find space for people who are sleeping outside through life-threateningly cold nights. Currently all of Penticton’s shelters are at capacity as they have been forced to limit space under COVID-19 guidelines.
Hudson recently came across a homeless man “nearly frozen to death” sleeping underneath a blanket outside of Compass Court. The man had been denied a room at the full shelter, Hudson said.
“He was looking at me and his lip was quivering and he couldn’t move… that’s a frozen, dying human body underneath spotlights and cameras outside a homeless shelter,” he said.
|Hudson took this photo of a man he encountered “freezing to death” outside one of Penticton’s homeless shelters. (Contributed)|
The man was just one of many Hudson said he has seen on the verge of “freezing to death” turned away from local shelters.
With temperatures reaching the lowest point of the year in recent weeks, PDSCL opened an emergency winter shelter with 20 beds at the Penticton Church of the Nazarene on Jermyn Avenue. The church was the only building that came forward to offer shelter space after PDSCL approached the “entire community and city,” Laing said.
“They (current staff) can’t do this alone. They need help.” Hudson said.
“I got off the street because nobody gave up on me, people kept at me, they kept being compassionate, they kept telling me I was worth it, and I got up off the street and I went to treatment… that’s all it takes.”
|Hudson has been campaigning at local homeless shelters in an effort to get them to improve their services to vulnerable populations. (Jesse Day – Western News)|