The Central Okanagan Journey Home Society’s Face Homelessness public awareness campaign to reduce stigma launched today. Stigma can perpetuate homelessness by worsening conditions for people who experience it and addressing stigma is one part of a total effort to address homelessness.

“Stigma causes more than hurt feelings,” said Stephanie Gauthier, Executive Director of Journey Home. “It’s traumatizing for those who face it every day and it can block access to things that are necessary to begin the journey away from homelessness, like a safe place to stay each night, a job, even something as simple as getting ID.”

At the centre of the campaign is a 30-second, animated video which encourages us not to let the stigma of homelessness overshadow our humanity.

“When you experience homelessness, people tend to treat you poorly, ignore you entirely, or make assumptions about how you ended up there,” said Stephanie Krehbiel with the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH).

Poor treatment stemming from stigma shouldn’t add to the hardships faced by people who experience homelessness.

“It makes a difference when someone sees you and recognizes you as a fellow human being,” added Sherry Landry, another LECoH member. “Our goal at LECoH is to be a voice for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, to create openness with understanding, without fear and judgement, and to initiate change.”

The idea of a public awareness campaign originated with LECoH in 2018 during the development of the Journey Home Strategy. Each of LECoH’s members has a unique experience or perception around homelessness to contribute and the members have been instrumental in the development of this campaign, as they are in all Journey Home initiatives.

“Stigma is about ‘othering’ people. It’s about treating people as different or flawed, and looking at homelessness as though it’s that person’s fault and not a systemic issue,” said Tim Richter, Founder, President and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). “The key to the success of Housing First is understanding housing as a human right and treating people as though they have worth despite their circumstances.”

The Housing First approach is key to the five-year Journey Home Strategy and provides a proven model to address homelessness in Canada. It focuses on moving people experiencing homelessness into stable, permanent and appropriate housing as the first step. Health, mental health, substance use and other challenges are addressed from that foundation of stable housing.

Visit journeyhome.ca/stigma to learn more about the campaign and how we all have a role to play in reducing the stigma faced by people who experience homelessness.