All systems go for Kelowna's Journey Home

Gaelene Askeland is Executive Director of Journey Home Society.
Image Credit: Submitted by Journey Home Transition team

KELOWNA - Mayor Colin Basran’s agreement to be the liaison between Kelowna City Council and Journey Home was the final piece needed to launch the next phase of the city’s homeless strategy.

Basran accepted the position yesterday, Feb. 25, in advance of tonight’s first meeting of the new Journey Home Society board that continues the work of the Journey Home task force the city launched in 2017.

“We will have a working board,” Journey Home Executive Director Gaelene Askeland told iNFOnews.ca. “The folks who have come onto our board know that they are going to be not just a policy and governance board, they’re going to be bringing their talents to us every day.”

The Journey Home task force submitted its report to Kelowna council in June 2018. Rather than leave things there, most of the task force members stayed on to raise funds and select a new board to operate as a non-profit society working to end homelessness in the city.

It’s independent of the city, with Basran sitting as a non-voting liaison, even though the city has provided $150,000 in funding.

So, what will Journey Home actually do?

“I’ve got a list of probably 120 things we need to do,” Askeland said.

One of the first tasks will be to create what she calls a ‘full systems map.’

“We have a pretty good sense of who does what in the community, but there are quite a number of different groups that meet to share information,” she said. “They all have slightly different focuses and don’t necessarily connect with each other. One of the big things about Journey Home is to coordinate all of those services and make sure all the people who are meeting regularly are coordinating. That will be part of our role, to herd those cats and try to make sure everyone is working from the same sheet music in some ways.”

While there may be some duplication of efforts, Askeland stressed that the needs of the homeless are complicated and the service agencies are all working hard to help.

Most agencies are committed to working with Journey Home to try to steamline the process that clients go through to access services.

“The best case scenario is to provide one doorway that gets them (homeless) access to the different things they might need, without having to apply for seven different things and explain themselves over and over again,” Askeland said. “If we’re going to be client-centred and meet the needs of the people who are living without homes and struggling with mental illness and addiction, then we really do need to focus on what their needs are and align ourselves accordingly.”

And that all takes some time.

“That will take some shifting on the part of a lot of us in the world of service providers,” she said. “We will get to that place. It may not be in the next six months, but we will get to that place. It takes a lot of doing to make that happen but we’re committed to doing it.”

And it will take some time to determine if the key strategy – called Housing First – is working.

A Point-in-Time count of homeless people in March 2018 found 286 people living in shelters or on the streets of Kelowna. The next count, in 2020, will give some indication on whether the influx of supportive housing units funded by the provincial government has really made a difference.

While only 286 people were officially counted as homeless last year, about 500 have applied for supportive housing.

There is no system in place, right now, to track those numbers. Setting up a system to track success is one of the 120 things Askeland has on her list.

Askeland is expecting to make an announcement soon on who has been named to the Journey Home board and a major fundraising achievement. The society has a target of raising $2.7 million to fund its operations, which include Askeland and one other staff member, a systems planner who started work yesterday.


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