By Eloho Ennah
“Getting kicked out of family, feeling no sense of belonging, connection, or purpose. In seeking community, I found a place where people understood me, accepted me…” A member of the Lived Experience Circle, a part of the Journey Home Strategy, expresses gratitude to the community for support during troubling times.
The Journey Home Strategy was developed by the City of Kelowna in 2017 in response to demands from social service organizations for the city to establish a long-term plan to address the pressing and the growing issue of homelessness.
Kelowna’s increasing appeal to migrants due to a growing economy has been driving purchases of both rental and ownership housing, as stated in the Journey Home Community Report of 2018. The number of houses going on sale is not rising as fast as the demand for them. The resulting shortage leads to higher housing prices meaning many individuals are unable to afford rent. The 2018 Point-in-Time Count (PIT Count) shows that homelessness has increased by 26% as compared to figures in 2016.
So far, the strategy has “seen incredible momentum,” says Kyleen Myrah, co-chair of the Journey Home Society, in an event with donors celebrating the program’s success. It aims at “building on and strengthening a foundation made up of connected, collaborative, and innovative stakeholders” within the Kelowna community. Amongst these stakeholders are “80 agencies and government departments involved in the homeless serving sector.”
The Strategy, alongside the Kelowna Gospel Mission and BC Housing, created a Transitional Storage center to allow individuals without a home to store their belongings in a safe place while they take the actions needed to move their lives forward. “[The storage center] really opens doors for people to be able to access things like Work BC, healthcare and even coming in for meals in the first six months of the program,” says Geoff, an outreach worker, in a video discussing benefits of the program. 32 individuals had been housed after accessing the storage program at the beginning of 2018.
The City of Kelowna has also been working closely with BC Housing through the Strategy for the creation of new housing units. The latest residence, Heath House situated on Highway 97 North, opened in 2019. The program hopes to support the development of 300 units of long-term supportive housing during its 5-year run. The Strategy aims to house more than 2,100 people.
In a message from the co-chairs of the Strategy, they remain optimistic about the future and state that “if we work collectively, addressing and preventing homelessness in our community is within our grasp.”