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Secwepemc restorative justice coordinator sheds light on homeless crisis

FILE PHOTO - Kamloops restorative justice coordinator Edith Fortier says poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of resources, mental illness and unresolved trauma are factors in this city's homeless crisis.
June 09, 2021 - 4:39 PM

The restorative justice coordinator in Kamloops says poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of resources, mental illness and unresolved trauma are factors in the city's homeless crisis.

Edith Fortier has been working as a restorative justice coordinator in Kamloops for over 20 years. Previous to that she was an aboriginal justice worker assisting clients on probation or parole.

Her role is vast and includes networking with B.C. Native Court workers, First Nation Court, schools, RCMP, Crown counsel, Probation Office and the Parole Office on an ongoing basis to promote and discuss restorative justice and its process. Over the years, she has acquired a lot of knowledge on the subject of homelessness.

“It is a challenge watching people struggle and helping them find solutions without enabling them,” Fortier said. “There is a lack of available resources. I find funding for clients and help people to participate in programs or training. I often wish I had enough money to help individuals and organizations on a bigger scale instead of short term. The struggle is real for some people. I often look at ways I can help others, whether it's helping them to find shelter for one night, telling them which organizations offer meals or sometimes where to apply for housing or employment.”

Fortier says poverty and lack of access to affordable housing are significant causes of homelessness. 

“Many choose between paying rent or mortgage and bills or food,” Fortier said. “Some move to a warmer climate such as Vancouver or Victoria so they can sleep in a tent or low cost rooming houses. Some individuals may struggle with how to complete the contracts, leases and forms, and some are not sure where to access services.”

Fortier does not like the stigma surrounding our homeless community members. She maintains there are many ways people can find themselves living on the streets.

“I know some people frown at homeless people because they might not understand why they became homeless,” Fortier said. “Some homeless people get involved in prescription or illegal drugs or alcohol to mask their pain. Sometimes if medication is prescribed over a long term a person can become addicted and need the drug to function. After my surgery I had a doctor wanting to prescribe me painkillers and I said I don't need them.

Mental illness is a factor and there is a lot of unresolved trauma. Often children, teens and young adults are told to keep quiet about traumatic experiences. They tell their children the same until an individual breaks the cycle and learns new skills of coping. The residential schools were a form of genocide which some individuals don’t discuss and the damaging effects are evident.”

At times, part of Fortier’s job is to advocate for the young, single parents and assist them with the services they require. She says many single parents are working hard and participating in programs to care for their children and improve their lives.

“There are single dads working and taking the Respectful Relationships Program, finding babysitters, car seats and strollers, and taking the bus with their children after work,” Fortier said. “It is challenging but they make the commitment. There is hope and the ability to get better with the proper support systems in place.”

Fortier enjoys helping others and seeing them successfully completing programs and learning life skills. Her passion in life is to give people hope and brighten their day even if it is just a little.

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