Trauma of homelessness compounded by bureaucratic runaround in Kelowna - InfoNews

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Trauma of homelessness compounded by bureaucratic runaround in Kelowna

Dawn Himer from the John Howard Society led the Homelessness Simulator in Kelowna, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.
May 28, 2019 - 2:59 PM

KELOWNA - It takes much more than an hour for the average Kelowna resident to understand what it means to be homeless, but it only takes a few minutes to feel the frustration and anger created by the bureaucratic runaround people are forced to cope with when they hit hard times.

“No one cares about you,” one participant in the Homeless Simulator pilot project said after going through an hour-long role playing session today, May 28. “You just want to give up.”

As part of the Journey Home effort to bring Kelowna to a functionally zero level of homelessness, the workshop is being developed to help overcome the stigma attached to homelessness.

About a dozen participants in the session – including a few from the media – were given a personality to adopt and instructions on how to deal with their first step in the process.

Those personalities ranged from an 18-year woman (Melody) in foster care about to “age out” of the system who needed to get schooling and housing to a 60-year-old man losing his social services support payments.

Initially turned down by the Ministry of Children and Family Development for support money because she wasn’t signed up for full-time schooling, Melody ended up on the street, having her ID stolen and registering at a women’s shelter.

This man, who goes by the name G, played the role of a worker at the Ministry of Children and Families at the Homelessness Simulator in Kelowna, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.
This man, who goes by the name G, played the role of a worker at the Ministry of Children and Families at the Homelessness Simulator in Kelowna, Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

Then she had to hike across town to sign up for new ID only to find she needed $35 to pay for it. With no money, she was advised to borrow from family or friends or collect empties or panhandle.

She had her shoes stolen so she was directed to a shoe bank only to be told she had to go back to the shelter, again some distance away, to get a voucher.

It was a vicious circle.

“There was kindness in different places in the system, but the system was broken," one participant said, after having been given a chocolate bar by a “worker” because she was hungry. 

The 60-year-old man whose income assistance ran out had to apply for his Canada Pension, but his feet became infected, he fell and broke his arm, spent two days in hospital and was discharged without anyone looking at his feet. That scenario ended with him dying.

“These characters are based on people who have gone through these real experiences,” said Dawn Himer, executive director of the John Howard Society, who facilitated the session.

The idea is to offer the workshop, for a fee, to businesses or groups who want to learn more about how it feels to experience homelessness, and the system that makes it hard for such people to get back on their feet again.

What was not so evident in the pilot was an understanding of how people end up homeless.

For many, they are just one step away from poverty.

Elaine McMurray, one of the helpers, ended up homeless with her children many years ago after her marriage split up and she was left at a low paying job without enough money to pay rent. She was couch surfing only for three weeks before getting housing, but now works with the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.

She spends her days trying help people travel the gauntlet of agencies trying to find places to live so the workshop felt very realistic to her.

Another facilitator told iNFOnews.ca the story of a family who moved to Kelowna from Holland. He became ill, they didn’t have medical insurance and ended up losing their home after missing three mortgage payments, barely avoiding become homeless.

“Sometimes people are just a paycheque or two away from homelessness,” she said.

That’s also part of the message the organizers want to get across, that being homeless can happen to just about anybody.

The program is being sponsored by the John Howard Society, United Way, City of Kelowna, Boys and Girls Club and Central Okanagan Foundation.


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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