Long and winding road

The Journey Home Society is optimistic about Kelowna’s five-year strategy to ensure everyone who needs a home will have access to the support they need to find one. But we also understand our community is eager to see evidence that the strategy is working.

Every person, regardless of their circumstances, has the right to safe and dignified housing as well as the supports required to sustain that housing. We’ve always said the Journey Home will not be a short, direct route. It is a five-year plan that will have twists and turns on the way to achieving our goals.

In the past year, more than 140 people who were experiencing homelessness have transitioned into supportive housing. In the grand scheme, it’s a relatively small number given there are more than 500 local people on BC Housing’s waitlist for housing, more than 200 sleeping in shelters or outside, and the fact that in any given year it is estimated that 2,000 people experience homelessness in our community. But for those 140 people and their families, their Journey Home has started – and it would not have happened without this focused effort to create supportive housing.

We know we still have a long way to go.  While part of the journey includes providing supportive housing for those who need it, it also includes providing shelter spaces to keep people safe who have no support, it includes supporting efforts to increase treatment beds in Kelowna, it includes introducing peer-support models, including peer outreach to address conflicts between the homeless population, businesses, and community in partnership with business, bylaw services and police. It also includes looking at preventative measures to address the various causes of homelessness and keep people from losing their homes.

A robust process is in place to transition people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna to supportive housing but it’s important to point out that not everyone in temporary shelters will transition to supportive housing, nor will everyone moving into supportive housing be coming from a shelter. There are people who are precariously housed, people living outside, and people living in other kinds of housing that does not meet their support needs who will be considered for new supportive housing units. We work to match the individuals, whether they are youth, seniors and everything in between with the type and level of supports they need, focusing on the most vulnerable first.

In the meantime, BC Housing, Interior Health, the City of Kelowna, the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society and community agencies continue working on housing solutions. All the partners collaborating to find solutions remain committed to the Housing First philosophy, increasing the supply of supportive housing and the overall Journey Home Strategy.

It is also important to understand that many of the people moving into supportive housing do not have addiction as one of their struggles. Some have developmental disabilities, brain injuries, mental illness, or physical health concerns that prevent them from being able to work. We have homeless veterans, and people who have worked all of their lives until a catastrophic event changed it forever. Some of our homeless population have been here their whole lives, and some moved here for work opportunities, or to be closer to family.  Making assumptions about who people are and what their struggles are simply based on where they live does everyone in our community a disservice.

The Journey Home Strategy informs us that 2,000 people in our community experience homelessness at some point every year. Some are chronically homeless while a larger number flow in and out of the system based on low income or job loss or other disruptions in their lives.

Homelessness is a modern crisis tied up in mental-health issues, addiction and poverty. The issues around homelessness are complex and we must try and strike a balance that supports those without homes but also ensures a safe community for all residents and visitors. Many communities in Canada, and certainly in BC are struggling with how to do this work.

The Journey Home is a 5-year strategy. We have gotten to a place of epidemic homelessness across our country through the last 25 years. Significant new investments federally and provincially in housing strategies, poverty reduction and mental health have begun, and it will take some time to see those results locally, but they are coming because we have a plan and community support. Take the time to learn about trauma, colonialism and it’s impacts on our community members and the myriad of reasons people become homeless. Learn about resiliency, reconciliation, and what people need to heal, learn and move forward. Choose to work with us to be part of the solution.

– Gaelene Askeland is executive director of the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society

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