Kelowna’s interest in seeking out solutions to homelessness is high when compared to other communities across Canada, say lead members of the Journey Home Task Force.
There were more than 1,690 points of contact with local residents to develop task force recommendations aimed at setting a strategy for how the city can address homelessness and related issues, such as providing mental health and drug addiction services.
“Engagement is a crucial piece in the development of our strategy to address homelessness and the level of interest and passion from the community over the last few months has been inspiring,” said task force co-chair Martin Bell, who made presentation to council Monday alongside co-chair Kyleen Myrah.
“Homelessness is a complex issue that cannot be solved by any one group. The engagement process has brought together many different sectors, that are essential in finding tangible and collaborative solutions to this issue.”
The Youth Homelessness Summit and the Community Summit in January launched the consultation phase of the strategy development with 178 participants from organizations that provide services to those experiencing homelessness.
Issues identified in the summits were explored further by more than 636 participants in 23 two-hour Design Labs with a focus on creating made-in Kelowna solutions. The design labs covered topics like mental health, addictions, technology, affordable housing, public education and understanding.
A public survey also ran from Feb. 7 to March 18, and was open to anyone who wanted to weigh in on the issue of homelessness in Kelowna.
More than 500 responses were received and findings included:
• 79 per cent of respondents felt that solving the issue of homelessness in Kelowna is very important, an additional 17 per cent believe it to be somewhat important
• 52 per cent, were satisfied with the current efforts to address homelessness, 32 per cent indicated that they were dissatisfied
• 85 per cent of respondents indicated that they believe homelessness is on the rise in Kelowna; another 10 per cent indicated that they believe it has stayed the same
Myra said from the outset, one of the task force goals was to hear input from those who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.
“The stories and insights that we’ve heard from those closest to the issue are absolutely crucial in creating this strategy,” she said. “This is critical to truly understand the kind of barriers they’re facing, as well as what is currently working in the community, and what else could be done.
“We are incredibly thankful to all who have attended and shared their knowledge so far.”
Bell and Myrah were asked about the ongoing perception of many that the homelessness problem in Kelowna is largely due to transients coming here from other communities.
Bell said where people come from is less important than having a system in place.
“Transient employment, vacations…there are a lot of reasons why people come here but homelessness is a far more diverse and complicated issue than it was perhaps 30 years ago,” Bell said.
“There is not one homogeneous reasons that applies to all people who are homeless. There are varied reasons—aged who need care, family violence, brain injury, addiction issues, injured in a car accident.”
Coun. Luke Stack said Kelowna by doing this task force process has put itself in position to access funding and resources, taking a step ahead of other communities.
“It took 20 years to get to where we are today, and it will take another 20 years to make it go away,” Stack said of homelessness in Kelowna.
Myra cited the importance of once the task force recommendations are adopted, the next challenge becomes taking those recommendations to the next step, accessing funding and making needed services and programs as part of a community umbrella response effort become reality.
“With a plan in place, it will give us a leg up as starting point to position ourselves to ask for what is needed in funding support,” Myrah said.
Journey Home Strategy development will continue in the coming months, beginning with a What We Heard: Strategic Directions & Input session April 10 where participants from the task force summits and design labs will have the opportunity to comment on the direction of the strategy.
The process will be open for input from anyone unable to attend as the presentation will be video recorded and available for viewing at kelowna.ca/journeyhome from April 11 to 18 along with a tool to provide feedback.
A draft of the Journey Home plan is set to be presented to Kelowna city council in June.
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