One of the break-out group at the homelessness services workshop held in Kelowna Tuesday. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna workshop seen as aid to city’s strategy to end homelessness

Toronto-based organizers of workshop praise city for its Journey Home strategy on homelessness

The people who provide services to those living on the street in Kelowna learned what it’s like to use of those services earlier this week at a workshop associated with the city’s Journey Home strategy to address homelessness.

The workshop, put on by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, brought together representatives of support agencies, and using information from those who are currently homeless and those who have been homeless in the past, held break-out discussions to look at how services are provided.

According to Kaite Burkholder Harris of the Toronto-based Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the session was held in Kelowna because of the work the city’s Journey Home strategy is doing.

“Kelowna is ahead of the game because ending homeless is already part of its community plan,” she said.

Sue Wheeler, the city’s social issues co-ordinator, said the workshop tied in with the Journey Home strategy because it helped identify what services are needed for the homeless and how best to provide them.

Using a housing-first approach, the strategy aims to get people off the street into housing and then into support services including those that deal with issues such as mental health and addiction, both identified as major contributors to homelessness.

Burkholder Harris said given that homelessness costs a community much more than housing the homeless costs, the housing-first approach works out better for everyone. And she said that is why the community needs more affordable, subsidized and supportive housing.

While the Journey Home strategy calls for another 300 units of supportive housing to be built in Kelowna to address the immediate need, 88 units are currently under construction by B.C. Housing and discussions are underway for another 100 units by 2019.

Wheeler said the city’s homeless strategy has already seen success through a series of 23 “design labs” that were held as part of the work to create the strategy.

She said one of those labs brought local faith groups together to look at the services they offer, to address overlap and to get the groups to work with each other in helping the homeless.

Another one helped create a research cluster featuring academics from UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College that will conduct unique local research to aid in the development of additional ways to help end homelessness in the Central Okanagan. Grants are currently being applied to fund that research.

“Kelowna has created a good foundation (for addressing homelessness),” said Wheeler, who described the observatory’s workshop as another way of helping add capacity to the system.

“With it, we wanted to bring the community together for better understanding,” she said.

The one-day workshop in Kelowna was part of a nation-wide effort by the Observatory on Homelessness to try and find ways to reduce homeless to zero.

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