Thursday, June 25 marks the second anniversary of the endorsement of the Journey Home Strategy. With input from over 2,000 points of engagement, this community-driven strategy is a collective vision grounded in the belief that all people have the right to safe and dignified housing and supportive care with the goal of a functional zero end to homelessness.

“Following the communities endorsement of the Journey Home Strategy, the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society was formed and has worked tirelessly in the last 15 months, since staff have been in place, to take on homeless systems planning, funding coordination and building partnerships with key groups,” said Stephanie Ball, Executive Director. “One of the actions in the Journey Home strategy included creation of 300 new housing with supports units to support people in the rental market. We are already ahead of that goal with 136 new units of housing opened since the strategy was endorsed and 168 units currently in development.”

A significant amount of effort has been spent on analyzing how the system can work in a more coordinated and aligned way to ensure that no one experiencing homelessness or at risk falls through the cracks. Journey Home is working with all community partners to create a responsive system to ensure that those citizens who are most housing-vulnerable are supported in a timely way and that the system is designed to meet their needs.

“Many of the accomplishments of an organization like Journey Home occurs in the background to ensure services, programs and service providers are working efficiently and in tandem to address priorities that will truly make the difference for people,” said Sue Wheeler, City of Kelowna, Social Development Manager. “There’s no quick fix when it comes to homelessness but having an organization like Journey Home act as the coordinator and planner of the system has made Kelowna a leader, not just in homeless serving systems, but in being able to respond to emergent issues, like COVID-19, that affect our vulnerable populations the hardest.”

In addition to securing homes, through the work to ensure a coordinated and easy-to-access system of care for those in Kelowna who have lost or are at risk of losing their home, the Journey Home Society has accomplished the following:

  • Advocacy efforts to increase understanding and empathy in the community have included expansion of the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH) to ensure the experience of those who of have experienced homelessness is heard and that ways to reach the greater community are at the forefront. For example, a pop-up film festival in 2018 that brought people together in almost 30 venues across the region and community to view a moving film on the experience of homelessness coupled with panel discussions to dispel myths about homelessness and highlight the root causes of homelessness – including pain, trauma and abuse.
  • Last year, Journey Home worked with Urban Matters, the City and other partners to launch PEOPLE (Paid Employment for People with Lived Experiences) Employment Services that offers skills training and meaningful, paid work opportunities for people with lived experiences of homelessness and/or drug use. PEOPLE now has its own Executive Director and is working with two training cohorts made up of over 50 graduates to engage them in meaningful employment. One initiative of PEOPLE is operating the new PEOPLE’s Connect washroom at the Queensway transit loop with a current focus on ensuring cleanliness and safety during COVID-19.
  • Kelowna is one of only two BC communities to participate in Built for Zero Canada with a collective of communities across Canada that are leading the way to end chronic homelessness. This structured, data-driven approach provides real-time data on the inflow and outflow of people experiencing homelessness and people returning to homelessness. This is important in being able to measure data trends on a month-to-month basis across the community, and eventually the region, in order to more accurately identify clear housing model and support needs, to drive continuous improvement, and to optimize the effectiveness of the homeless serving system.

“While significant progress has been made to date in implementing the Journey Home Strategy, including the top 10 actions, there is still so much work to be done,” said Ball. “But it’s gratifying to see that the work to implement the community-driven Journey Home Strategy is making a difference and that we are creating a responsive system that can act quickly to move people from homelessness to being properly supported.”

The Journey Home Strategy is designed to be targeted, realistic, and measurable and implemented over a span of five years. To implement the Strategy, Journey Home will continue to work towards the milestones of ending chronic homelessness by 2024, introducing measures to prevent homelessness in the first place, and to ensure continuous improvement in the coordinated approach across the system to achieve a functional end to homelessness. Immediate initiatives include integration of health, housing and outreach supports as well as winter shelter planning for the upcoming winter months to ensure that everyone has a place to shelter indoors during the coldest weather.

For more information about the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society and the Journey Home Strategy, visit journeyhome.ca.