Cailan Libby recalls the moment well that inspired him to start his latest pilot project.
“In November I was on holiday in the United States and I found myself thinking about intergenerational living and how it could be a solution to the housing issues we have in Kelowna, and in the Okanagan.”
The result is iGen, a newly launched service that provides inter-generational living opportunities to students and seniors. Through iGen, the goal, Libby explained, is to address the issue of affordable housing, social isolation and loneliness.
He said the intention of iGen is not to generate an income, but to create a community. Libby hopes to launch the first iGen pairings in a few months and is currently accepting applications online.
Libby, the CEO and co-founder of Happipad, an online platform that allows long-term property renting to be completed in real time, was one of four local innovators to showcase their “made-in-the-Okanagan” solutions to the current housing crisis during a panel discussion on the issue held at the Innovation Building in Kelowna Wednesday night.
The event was hosted by UBC and Okanagan College professors and included an eight-minute presentation by each panelist, followed by a question and answer period.
In addition to Libby, presenters included UBC professor and iSearch coordinator, Jon Corbett, UBC research engineer, Bryn Crawford, who is working on the university’s Homeless Personal Carrier project, and Tara Tschritter with Little House Contracting.
While Libby’s approach is to connect generations, Corbett believes he can help people by making it easier to connect those in need with services.
That’s the concept of iSearch, a website designed to assist individuals looking for low-income rentals, supportive housing or emergency shelters, by pinpointing the agencies that provide it.
Corbett says the site is currently only available on the web, but the intention is to create an app with updates made by service agencies, in real time. This, he added, would help users access services they need faster. He said it also will allows stakeholders to study “crucial” data that can be used to help improve and streamline services.
“Someone, who is, for example, looking for a bed and a hot meal, and maybe a place to store their stuff, is able to fill out the search fields and then be directed to all those services,” Corbet said.
Noting that an app will not solve the problems facing some of the Okanagan’s most vulnerable residents, Corbett said he believes it can help some people.
“It’s not a solution — homelessness and the issues surrounding it are complicated. These are wicked problems, there are no simple solutions but the more we can learn, the more closer we can get to making a meaningful contribution to solving some of these problems.”
Crawford echoes Corbett’s theory in describing his own innovation — the PBC (personal belongings cart — a moveable and securable buggy that can hold a homeless person’s possessions).
“Essentially, it’s difficult for a homeless person to manage their belongings. Often, they can’t leave them at an overnight shelter, and if they have an appointment, they end up leaving all their belongings by the side of the road. Often, those items will go missing and then they have to start collecting them all over again. So much of their focus becomes, understandably, on keeping track of their possessions.”
Often, he added, this comes at the detriment of accessing the services they need.
“Rather than leave the cart unattended, they just won’t go,” Crawford explained.
This kind of knowledge, he noted, comes first hand through interviews with people who live in shelters and on the street. Those interviews also provided him with information he says he never would have thought of, like the idea to include a cell phone charger on the PCB.
Local manufacturer Waterplay Solutions, contributed more than $9,500 in-kind to the project, to help with the prototype. Crawford said the team goal is to have five units ready for distribution in Kelowna shortly. They will be distributed to five local service agencies who would decide who gets to test them out.
While she admits that currently, her company, Little House Contracting Corp. can be considered “attainable” rather than “affordable” housing, in the strictest sense of the word, Tara Tschritter says the concept of micro homes, when placed in a backyard as a second dwelling, are a great way live in a more and more “cost-effective” way. In regard to affordable homes for people with lower incomes, Tschritter said she, through her company, intend to contribute, but require some sort of financial sponsorship or a partnership to “make that happen.”