New Executive Director of John Howard Society is aiming to change the conversation on homelessness in Kelowna - InfoNews

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New Executive Director of John Howard Society is aiming to change the conversation on homelessness in Kelowna

Dawn Himer is the new Executive Director of the John Howard Society.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/John Howard Society
March 06, 2019 - 5:00 PM

KELOWNA - Dawn Himer is relatively new to Kelowna but she’s looking to make a big impact on the homelessness crisis the city has been facing.

Himer took over from Gaelene Askeland as Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Central and South Okanagan at the beginning of February. That was the same time Askeland moved over to take a similar position at Journey Home Society.

“We have to change the language around homelessness,” Himer told iNFOnews.ca. “And we have to show respect.”

While the John Howard Society has been front and centre in sometimes heated meetings about supportive housing in Kelowna, it does much more than manage such facilities. Himer wants to work with Journey Home to find innovative solutions to dealing with people in need, part of which requires other forms of housing, such as group homes.

The City of Kelowna started tackling homelessness in earnest in 2017 when it struck the Journey Home Task Force that took until June 2018 to complete its report with a strategy to substantially end homelessness in five years.

Much of the focus was on a “housing first” strategy to get people out of shelters and off the streets and into safe housing, but it also called for the supports people need in order to deal with the underlying causes of homelessness.

Most of the task force members continued on to form a non-profit Journey Home Society to continue that work, which led to Askeland being hired as Executive Director.

Himer entered this mix about six months ago when she was hired by the John Howard Society as Director of Strategic Operations. One of her primary tasks in that job was to “develop strategies to align with Journey Home.”

Those strategies include getting the various agencies that are working with the homeless to coordinate their efforts and also look at other types of housing since 40- to 50-unit mini-suite apartments don’t work for everyone.

To this task Himer brings a strong business and administrative background as she takes the reigns at John Howard with its 140 employees – likely to grow to 200 by the end of the year when McIntosh and Agassiz supportive housing projects are expected to open.

“As an executive director or a CEO, you are running a multi-million dollar operation,” Himer said. “It needs to be effective and it needs to be accountable.”

Himer started off in business with a focus on human resources, but always wanted to do more.

“You get to a point in your life where you go, ‘Am I making a difference?'” she said. “It’s always been a desire of mine to see opportunities for growth in people and in organizations and to be able to make a positive impact in my community. That’s my heart.”

One day she was having coffee with a friend who was chair of the board of Adeara, an Edmonton organization that works to “transform the lives of women who have been struggling with addiction, poverty, trauma, and abuse,” according to its website.

The chair encouraged her to take a chance so she was hired by Adeara and soon became executive director. She held that position for five years before taking another chance and moving to Kelowna so her husband could start Himer and Associates Handyman Services.

While she did some counselling and other hands-on work at Adeara, she is mainly an administrator who is not only dealing with a growing organization and trying to co-ordinate with Journey Home, but has other initiatives on the go.

One of those is an effort to bring a community court or integrated court back to Kelowna. As with Journey Home, that was an effort started by others but Himer now plays a vital role. She’s applied for funding so that John Howard Society can hire a court liaison to work with the legal system to divert certain offenders from the prison system.

She expects to have word on that funding by the end of March and hopes that will be the final piece needed to get the integrated court up and running.

One of her key objectives is to change the language people use in dealing with the homeless so that supportive housing projects are not so controversial.

“They are still part of our community,” she said. “The more we understand, the less there is to fear.”


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