How Mama Shannon Christensen is standing up for the 'invisible homeless' - InfoNews

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How Mama Shannon Christensen is standing up for the 'invisible homeless'

Shannon Christensen (centre) with her husband Dylan and mom Michelle Davies.
Image Credit: Contributed
March 13, 2019 - 6:30 AM

KELOWNA - A Kelowna mama hopes to catch the ear of the prime minister in her drive to reduce or eliminate poverty in Canada.

Shannon Christensen, the founder of Mamas for Mamas, will be attending a conference in June, which will also include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie.

“Once they understand the huge amount of data and input that we’ve received from women - thousands and thousands of women living in poverty across the country - it will be a very beneficial conversation for them to understand that there are groundroots organizers that know more than people who collect data for 10 years because, by that point the data’s null and void,” she told iNFOnews.ca.

Christensen has built what started as a Facebook group to help mothers share children’s clothing to a “movement” that has 55,000 members across the country and growing daily.

That growth took five years. In another five years she hopes to have a million members and be lobbying the federal government.

What does she have to say to them?

“I have the solution,” Christensen said. “We need to stop giving a hand out. We need to start giving a hand up. We need to work smarter not harder on how we’re addressing poverty relief. We need to stop punishing people who’ve been in the space where they don’t have enough, by continuing to ensure that, as soon as they start to earn, it gets clawed back.

“We need to have universal child care as part of the school system. It is just so far past time for that to happen. And we need a universal living wage.

“There’s a lot of ways we can stop preventing people from coming out of poverty. If we focus more on prevention rather than intervention. If we help the mom who needs $400 extra a month to keep her child in her care to make sure they don’t go to the ministry so the ministry doesn’t have to pay $4,000 a week to have a social worker to look after them in a hotel room, we’ll be doing a lot better for those clients."

Five years ago, Christensen just wanted to build a group of Facebook friends to share old baby clothes.

But, she also had a job as a trauma counsellor with “criminalized youth” and their mothers and saw the connection between crime and poverty.

“I thought, there’s got to be a better way for women and their families to access what they need without using money,” she said. “There is so much that’s going to the landfill and the environment is suffering because we aren’t sharing with each other. We are selling to each other.

“I wanted to create a sense of community among these moms where you were good to each other. You respected each other’s decisions. You were kind, especially when it was hard. And you went out of your way to make sure you were making life better for the next mom in line, not because it was good for you but because it was good for the community.”

From humble beginnings, she now has about 20,000 members in the Okanagan and offers numerous services to help people cope with poverty.

And she’s gained a perspective on the magnitude of the problem.

“We had 3,998 women come to receive support through the outreach program last year. At least 25 per cent were facing some level of homelessness,” she said. “That’s imminent homeless. That is couch surfing. That is: we saved them from the homeless situation by getting them a damage deposit or rental subsidy or there have been dozens of referrals to shelters.

Agencies like B.C. Housing that are working to get the homeless off the streets and out of shelters have 500 applications in Kelowna.

Christensen’s statistics show that another thousand, perhaps including children, are at risk of joining that list.

“We deal with the invisible homeless,” she said. “They don’t have a place to live but they have somewhere to sleep. There are a lot of people who couch surf. A lot of times where there are six people living in a one-bedroom.”

That’s why, as her membership grows and her data base grows, she believes she’s in a position to tell the federal government how to tackle this problem.

She will not become a politician, trying to work from the inside. She believes she can be more effective by speaking for the thousands of women from across Canada she will be representing.

“We are here to change mindsets long term because this is a movement, not a moment,” she said. “There is nothing more powerful than a determined mother. And we advocate like a mother and we will continue to do so, if it means that I have to go to Ottawa and stand there until they hear me. They will hear me.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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