Kelowna has embarked on an ambitious five-year, $46.7 million plan to address homelessness in the city called the Journey Home Initiative. (Carli Berry - Capital News)

Over half of Kelowna homeless suffer from brain injuries: BrainTrust

Employment, concentrating, making ends meet difficult with invisible injury

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) affect between 50 and 60 per cent of homeless people, according to BrainTrust Canada.

In addition, 70 per cent of people acquired the injury prior to becoming homeless.

The injury sustained—whether in a car accident, a fight, in sport, intimate violence or even a fall at work—can alter personality, slow reaction time and thought processes and make it difficult to maintain employment.

This can lead to a downward spiral resulting in homelessness, said BrainTrust CEO Mona Hennenfent.

READ MORE: UBC Okanagan awarded grant for homelessness research

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Based out of Kelowna, BrainTrust works in collaboration with community partners to ensure its clients can secure housing and stay there.

Representatives from the organization work as the middle-person between landlords and tenants to mitigate any issues that may arise while ensuring rent is paid.

These wraparound supports, “that’s the ticket,” Hennenfent said.

“Some of our clients do have addictions, but many of them do not,” she said.

BrainTrust community support facilitator Amanda McFarlane said the right accommodations are vital in a client’s journey to recovery.

“Recovering from a TBI, a proper diet and sleep are so important,” she said, noting group homes or shelters could be detrimental to some individual recovery strategies.

BrainTrust also tailors plans for individuals with TBIs that consist of appropriate rehabilitation which can equip people with the tools to cope with brain injuries.

Counselling is another important factor that has been integrated into care plans and BrainTrust is consistently advocating for additional funding to supply this support.

Hennenfent said mental health issues affects approximately 90 per cent of people with TBIs.

Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety are the three most common mental health issues affecting these clients.

READ MORE: Public forum fails to ease Rutland residents’ frustration over McCurdy house

“If you take a snow globe and shake it up—imagine it’s your brain—all of the flakes are going to fall differently,” McFarlane said.

“It’s the same with brain chemistry. All of those chemicals are going to change.”

Symptoms may present as chronic headaches, difficulty concentrating and dizziness, but often TBIs are undiagnosed and the symptoms are left unexplained and often mistaken for behavioural issues, she said.

“Sometimes people look like they’re drunk, but they’re not. It’s a brain injury,” McFarlane said.

ID cards identifying the TBI and its symptoms is one way BrainTrust is aiding its clients.

Many like to carry the cards, Hennenfent added, because they are tired of explaining themselves.

“The biggest thing our clients have to deal with is that it’s invisible. They say they wish they had a cast on their arm or a cane so the public would show compassion,” Hennenfent said.


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@kelownacapnews.com

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