Lived experience with homelessness Kelowna resident recieves a certificate from Erin Welk and a pin from Coun. Loyal Wooldridge on July 9 at the Rotary Centre for the Arts. (David Venn - Capital News)

Kelowna homeless graduate into the workforce

“I thought, ‘No. I can still work,’” said graduate.

Thirty people who used to live on the streets will be employed through a local social enterprise designed to transition them into the workforce.

The Rotary Centre for the Arts hosted PEOPLE Employment Services July 7 in celebration of the 30 graduates who will be contracted to work for the City of Kelowna, among other partnering businesses and organizations.

“We are working with individuals who have faced systemic barriers but are incredibly personally resilient,” said Erin Welk, PEOPLE director. “Starting a program where we can demonstrate that these individuals are really important and powerful members of the community is something that we are really passionate about doing.”

READ MORE: Kelowna residents who have lived through homelessness share their insight with COJHS

Harold Smoke, one of the 30 and a member of the local Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness said he always had a desire and drive to work. But, he said, “it comes to a point in one’s life where you can only take so much s—t before you lose it.”

“Once I started learning what (PEOPLE) was about, it really just changed my whole perspective on everything,” he said.

PEOPLE Employment Services started in January as a program under the umbrella of Urban Matters, a social enterprise that describes itself as helping communities deliver tangible solutions so that people can live happier and healthier lives.

Early next year, Welk said PEOPLE will become its own organization.

READ MORE: Ex-homeless Rutland man says supportive housing too close to schools

She said the idea for PEOPLE and its pragmatic solution-based program and relationship with the city’s Journey Home initiative came from the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness.

The graduates went through training modules that taught them about culture, social strategies and financial literacy to prepare them for the workplace. PEOPLE provides support for the workers, taking on the financial risks by managing income and contracts and the business that contact the workers do not hire them directly.

“(We have deliverables) in our contract,” Welk said. “(Partner businesses are) paying us to do that and we are paying the individuals for their work.”

READ MORE: Eli to be remembered by bridging the gap between Kelowna’s communities

Wanda MacKinnon, a Kelowna resident and PEOPLE graduate said she was scared to get back into the workforce but the program gave her a confidence boost.

“The people are so supportive,” she said. “I thought, ‘No. I can still work.’”

Welk said PEOPLE is in the process of finalizing details for the 2020 program, which will aim to recruit 20 to 25 individuals with lived experience being homeless.

To learn more, visit their website at


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