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The community of people who experience homelessness is as diverse and varied as any other group. There’s no one face of homelessness because everyone who experiences it is unique.
The only way we can face homelessness is by recognizing the individuals behind the issue.
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You may wonder what you can do to help solve homelessness. You’re just one person,
but there’s a lot you can do to help.
Some things are hard to look at or painful to think about. They make us uncomfortable or embarrassed. It’s tempting to look away, to ignore the problem and the people who suffer because of it.
But, you can’t solve a problem by ignoring it.
Homelessness is one of those uncomfortable issues. In a country as rich as Canada, it’s shameful to think there are people without a safe, reliable place to call home each night.
It’s easy to ignore the issue, to pretend we don’t see the people behind it, but we already know that approach won’t work. To address homelessness, we need to face it, acknowledge it and recognize that everyone has a role to play in solving it.
The Journey Home Strategy lists 35 actions to be implemented over its five-year span. We place people and their experiences at the centre of our work always.
The Journey Home Strategy was developed with more than 2,000 points of community engagement.
Each of us has travelled our own unique path to arrive where we are today. For some, the road has been easy. Good health, good parents, a good education and enough to eat have paved the way for a comfortable, fulfilling life. There are bumps in the road, of course – like job loss, injury or divorce – but these people have a community around them to help right the ship when things go sideways.
Others aren’t so lucky. For them, injury could mean they lose their job, job loss might mean serious financial strain, and an end to their marriage might lead them into homelessness.
Each journey into homelessness is as unique as the individual who experiences it. Some struggle with their mental health, while others don’t.
Some struggle with substance use, while others don’t.
Homelessness is most often a low point in the lives of people who experience it, a period of crisis brought about by impossible situations that are often completely out of their control. The first step in facing homelessness is to understand the people behind the issue, their unique stories and the factors that led them there.
- Lived Experience Circle Member
The Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH) identified stigma as an important contributor to homelessness early in the development of the Journey Home Strategy. They saw stigma as more than an emotional hardship or a cause of hurt feelings, they saw it creating real barriers that prolong and perpetuate homelessness.
More than 300 homes with supports have been built in Kelowna since 2017, which is a key target of the Journey Home Strategy. This significant accomplishment comes as a result of cooperation and coordination with BC Housing, the City of Kelowna and the various housing with support site operators.
Stigma is a set of negative or unfair beliefs that we hold about certain people, actions or things. We see it play out every day toward substance use, mental health issues, sexual orientation and identity, and homelessness. It’s the force in our society that makes us fear certain people, to judge them, or to ignore them completely. Stigma reveals itself as harsh words and anger, but it can also be subtle, like choosing not to say hello or crossing the street to avoid someone.
From the outside, stigma might seem like a minor issue. We’ve all felt disrespected or poorly treated at times. It upsets us but we tend to move on and forget about it. The difference with the stigma faced by people experiencing homelessness is that they are so often ignored or met with hostility that those experiences can become traumatizing.
People experiencing homelessness see the pathway to a better life evaporate as stigma closes the door on basic services, employment and housing opportunities. Their identity becomes tied to homelessness, and the income and stability needed for reliable housing moves further out of their reach.
For many who experience homelessness, the stigma they encounter can lead to feelings of shame, hopelessness and isolation. They feel alone and cut off from the rest of society, which can result in worsening wellbeing and the sense that the journey out of homelessness is too far out of reach.
Stigma creates barriers aside from those internal ones. It blocks access to those things that are necessary to begin the journey away from homelessness. A safe place to sleep each night, a job, something as simple as getting the ID needed to access support services can be made much more difficult because of stigma.
Stigma can also contribute to reduced social serving sector capacity, limiting the resources available for people experiencing homelessness. Stigma can impact the ability to develop new services and housing for our most vulnerable citizens. Community opposition to emergency shelters means people sheltering outside may not have access to that first foothold on a better future. Opposition to affordable housing and housing with supports projects may mean shelter residents miss the opportunity to transition to more permanent housing.
A project that’s delayed a few months, or even a few weeks, can have serious consequences for people experiencing homelessness.
Saddest of all is that opposition to these projects is often grounded in false or exaggerated fears that they will result in increasing crime rates or decreasing property values. In most cases, that simply isn’t true.
- Lived Experience Circle Member
Though statistics tell an incomplete story of homelessness, they can shed light on the issue and the people who experience it.
The Central Okanagan Foundation’s 2020 Point-in-Time Count provides a snapshot of homelessness in the Central Okanagan taken on March 10, 2020. Findings were based on reports from shelters and other housing locations, and 75 volunteers surveying unsheltered locations.
were found stayingin shelters
were identified in other interim housing
were ininstitutional care
were unsure where they would spend the night
were between 25 and 64 years old
identified as Indigenous or had Indigenous ancestry
identified as male, 27% female, 1% transgender and 0.4% as other
experienced homelessness for six months or more in the past year
- Youth Focus Group Participant
Homelessness has an impact on all of us, not just those who experience it directly. Kelowna isn’t just a city, it’s a community. We all have a role to play in making homelessness history, just as we’ll all benefit from a community that’s made healthier, happier, wealthier and more productive by addressing homelessness.
Smile and say ‘hello’
Help dispel feelings of inferiority or invisibility by recognizing someone’s humanity. A little more kindness in the world doesn’t hurt anyone.
Learn more about homelessness in your community
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Support projects geared at ending homelessness
We need to take proactive and purposeful steps to end homelessness. Fortunately, we know the way. It lies through increases in affordable housing, housing with supports, and reimagining emergency shelters. These projects benefit from public support, so lend them your voice whenever you can.
Organizations working in the social serving sector create a tangible impact every day. We all stretch our budgets as far as they can go. Every dollar makes a difference.
It’s easy to judge someone based on their circumstances, but those assumptions often aren’t fair. Challenge yourself to see past a person’s outward appearance, recognizing the human being underneath.
Meeting and interacting with people who experience homelessness may prompt feelings of anxiety or even fear. It’s important to recognize where these feelings come from. A person might make you feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean they pose a threat. Many people experiencing homelessness feel invisible, ignored and often avoided.
- Reconciliation Design Lab Participant
We all have a stake in ending homelessness, just as we all have a stake in improving the community where we live. An end to homelessness means a better Central Okanagan for everyone.
We have a model to address homelessness that’s been proven effective in communities across Canada. It is based on the foundational belief that housing is a human right. “Housing First” is an approach that focuses on moving people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing as the first step. Substance use, mental health and any other experiences can be addressed from the foundation of stable housing and are not seen as issues that must be addressed before becoming housed. Research supports the housing-first approach, as does the real-world application in Medicine Hat, Alberta and other cities across North America. We know, and statistics show, that most people who use substances or live with compromised mental health, will never become homeless. We recognize and strongly believe that everyone has an equitable right to be housed without judgement.
It can seem counterintuitive to some, but research shows proactively addressing homelessness costs less in the long term than doing nothing. Homelessness is costly when crisis responses from the social, health care and justice systems are taken into account. Shelters, hospital visits and police responses all come with a hefty price tag. Of course, there is a cost to provide safe, reliable and appropriate housing for people experiencing homelessness, but that cost is more than offset by reduced use of these other systems.
The human cost of homelessness is far greater than the price in dollars and cents. It robs our neighbours, friends and family members of the health, happiness and security they deserve. Ending homelessness isn’t just economically responsible, it’s morally right. Each of us has a role in building a better community and there are few things we could do that would rival the impact of ending homelessness. Let’s work together to make our community kinder, let’s end homelessness together.
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