The first graduating class of Journey Home’s PEOPLE program is nearing graduation and eager to start working for the City of Kelowna’s operation department.
“We are looking forward to working with PEOPLE this summer in a pilot project designed to enhance cleanliness and assist in beautifying our downtown,” infrastructure operations department manager Ian Wilson said.
“We are impressed by PEOPLE’s commitment to contribute to the community in a positive way.”
Individuals with lived experiences with homelessness or opioid use and addiction were offered the opportunity to train with the PEOPLE program — a peer-support model that assists in setting individuals up with employment contracts.
Contracts have been drawn up this past week, Central Okanagan Journey Home Society (COJHS) executive director Gaelene Askeland said, and the program was wildly successful with all 32 trainees completing the program.
“It’s almost unheard of,” she said. “This tells me the training is good and the people were highly motivated to get to work.”
“All of those folks are ready to get to work and are really excited about the opportunity,” she said.
Askeland said seeing members of the community contributing to beach cleanups and efforts to beautify the downtown core could help shift the public’s perspective of homelessness.
“Showing people they’re human beings like the rest of us and they can contribute breaks down some of that stigma,” she said.
“They worked hard to get through the training and get ready for their work placements,” Askeland said. “And every opportunity we can get to have people with lived experience work is a good opportunity.”
The Paid Employment Opportunities for People with Lived Experiences (PEOPLE) is only one of many actions the COJHS has implemented from its five-year strategy to end homelessness, and its only four months in.
COJHS is hosting a design lab on June 13 to assess the needs of affected individuals in the community, “as expressed by those with lived experience of Kelowna’s shelter system,” she said.
“Even as we work towards ending homelessness, there will always be a need for short-term shelter accommodation for those in our community who find themselves without homes,” Askeland said.
The design lab will take community perspectives to better understand how shelters function in Kelowna and identify what is needed now and in the future.
“We will look at the variety of shelter models to determine the best fit to address the needs in our community over the short-term and long-term,” Askeland said.
Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan also joined up to create a Homelessness Research Collaborative to identify key areas to focus on to support the Journey Home Strategy. Researchers will host a community engagement event on June 20.
Establishing an integrated court in Kelowna is another project COJHS continues to pursue. It is working to establish a court model that offers more engagement between the courts, police, the person charged with a crime and those who provide services to those charged.
“Integrated court aims to achieve better outcomes for vulnerable people and the broader community through a more restorative approach to justice,” John Howard Society executive director Dawn Himer said.
“By helping people lead healthier, more stable lives, the development of the integrated court represents another step to introduce measures to prevent homelessness in the first place.”