KELOWNA - Research to put together a strategy to tackle homelessness in Kelowna has been ongoing for the past seven months and, according to the City’s social development manager, the process will continue to evolve.
Two updates to the ongoing strategy, named Journey Home, were made at Monday's, June 26, council meeting.
Council approved the appointments of Martin Bell and Kyleen Myrah as co-chairs of a 15-person task force that will lead the homeless strategy team. The terms of reference for the task force were also approved.
The rest of the task force will be appointed by the end of August and will report back to city council with its final findings in June, 2018.
“A big step was to figure out who was going to take the leadership role on this,” social development manager Sue Wheeler says, “It was decided that the City would be the best convener, while each of the players will be responsible for implementing the final model.”
However, just getting to this point, took seven months.
“There was a lot of background work done before the task force could be made up,” Wheeler says. “It’s hard to understand because it’s complex, the systems related discussions are going to take time but changes are underway everyday.”
Currently, there are many different organizations in Kelowna involved in supporting people living without a home. However, Wheeler says, there is no mechanism in place to coordinate everything and it is difficult for people to navigate through the system and get the help they need.
One of the goals of the Journey Home strategy is to provide a systems-based approach to dealing with homelessness. This means that each player in the community works together as one entity, putting less onus on the people in need and more responsibility on key players in the community.
“Right now it’s difficult for people who are homeless, or about to be homeless, to know where to go,” she says. “It’s about making that change and creating a system that works together so every citizen has access to the systems they need and no one falls through the cracks.”
Wheeler says she wants the people using the system to only have to tell their story once and to have the workers on the other side put the pieces together and figure out what outlets that person needs.
So far, the Housing First strategy put in place within the past year is working well to help people off the streets, she says.
“Everyday someone doesn’t have a place in the community, and doesn’t feel welcomed is another barrier preventing them from moving forward,” Wheeler says. “By providing them with somewhere to live, it’s that first step to getting them back on their feet.”
As Kelowna is a popular tourist destination, it is no secret the availability of rental units is scarce, making the Housing First strategy a difficult one.
“Part of this process is going to be learning and understanding what our unique challenges are,” Wheeler says. “As we gather all the information that we have and put it together to build a community profile, we’ll start to understand those unique challenges more.”
Find past stories on homelessness in Kelowna here.
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