Kelowna’s Journey Home has launched the Face Homelessness campaign, aimed at reducing the stigma faced by people experiencing homelessness.
At the centre of the campaign is a 30-second, animated video that encourages individuals not to let the stigma of homelessness overshadow our humanity.
“Stigma causes more than hurt feelings,” said Stephanie Gauthier, executive director of Journey Home. “It’s traumatizing for those who face it every day and it can block access to things that are necessary to begin the journey away from homelessness, like a safe place to stay each night, a job, even something as simple as getting an ID.”
The idea of a public awareness campaign originated with the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH) in 2018 during the development of the Journey Home Strategy. Each of LECoH’s members has a unique experience or perception around homelessness to contribute, and members have been instrumental in the development of the campaign.
“When you experience homelessness, people tend to treat you poorly, ignore you entirely, or make assumptions about how you ended up there,” said Stephanie Krehbiel with LECoH.
Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said the campaign is important.
“Homelessness is solvable,” added Richter. “We see it in the thousands of people that are housed every day across Canada, or the communities that are slowly but surely moving the needle and bending the curve on the lethal trajectory of homelessness across the country.”
Richter stated that modern mass homelessness as we see it today, and as it’s unfolding on Kelowna streets, has not always existed. He said it’s the result of government policy choices, not an individual failing.
“It really began in the mid-to-late-80s,” explained Richter. “Under the Mulroney government as it started investing less in affordable housing, and cutting different programs. It exploded in the mid-90s when the federal government eliminated Canada’s affordable housing programs and cut transfers to provinces that supported welfare, health care, and other social services.”
Gauthier said the work to end homelessness in Kelowna is strongly supported by council and city staff.
“Both in terms of supporting and trying to remove some of the barriers in our work, as well as some of the advocacy the city has done in partnership with other communities around complex care services, provincially, and other issues.”
She added there is also strong commitment from the federal and provincial governments in supporting work around emergency responses and housing projects. She said she would prefer to see a more timely response from the province regarding the development of housing and programs such as income assistance.
Richter pointed out that the homelessness crisis has been 40 years in the making and for the first time in those four decades there is a national housing strategy.
“There are still some clear gaps in that strategy,” he said “It’s certainly not as ambitious or productive as it used to be. Kelowna is doing a lot of the right things in terms of what you can do locally, but to individuals, engaging in the Facing Homelessness campaign is talking to your MLAs, your city council, and your MPs about the importance of ending homelessness. It’s contributing and volunteering to those organizations here that could use your help.”