Piers was fortunate to administer the Specialized Community Assistance Program in Kelowna for seven years. This program was designed to work directly with the “absolute homeless”, that is, people who were actually sleeping on our streets. The foundation of our program was providing lifeskills, housing and access to resources and services. I say fortunate to administer, because throughout this contract we were awarded the opportunity to grow immensely as individuals and as an organization, through the people we met and the stories we heard.
Every person we worked with came with a story, and a long sequence of events that led them to life on the streets. Most were motivated, intelligent and capable, but met with profound circumstances that rendered it difficult for them to thrive in everyday life and achieve independence. Many of our clients were victims of abuse or were brought up in negative family situations. Some were faced with tragic life events and immeasurable loss that they were unable to overcome. Others suffered cultural struggles, racism or political or social oppression. Many, if not most, lived with some degree of mental health, making employment and relationship maintenance difficult if not impossible. The spin off to these factors was addiction, and battling addiction while living on the street is a very tall order.
We worked, to the extent our resources would allow, within a Housing First Philosophy. That is, helping the individual to find accommodation as our first priority, and then working on the issues that were keeping them from housing and independence as a second measure. Housing First is defined as “an approach that focuses on moving people who are chronically and episodically homeless as rapidly as possible from the street or emergency shelters into permanent housing with supports that vary according to client need.” This philosophy has been incredibly successful in actually ending homelessness in many countries across the world and we are very excited to see Canada and Kelowna adapting this methodology in our effort to end homelessness.
Recent efforts to end homelessness in Kelowna include:
- Canadian Mental Health Association’s Housing First Program – direct Housing First Services
- The Journey Home Task Force – a committee formed to develop a concrete plan to end homelessness in Kelowna
- Several new low-income properties through BC Housing
- Adopting the Vulnerability Assessment – screening our most vulnerable street population for service priority
- Supportive Housing Registration Service – a registration for low income adults who require support services to achieve successful tenancies.
We are excited and optimistic as to what the future holds for Kelowna’s homeless population. If you, or someone you know are experiencing homelessness, the Canadian Mental Health Association, (250) 861-3644, 504 Sutherland Avenue, Kelowna, BC V1Y 5X1 would be a good place to start.