Lived experience with homelessness Kelowna resident recieves a certificate from Erin Welk and a pin from Coun. Loyal Wooldridge on July 9 at the Rotary Centre for the Arts. (David Venn - Capital News)

Okanagan homeless graduate into the workforce

“I thought, ‘No. I can still work,’” said graduate.

Thirty people who formerly lived on the street will be employed through a local social enterprise designed to transition people who have experienced homelessness into the workforce.

The Rotary Centre for the Arts played host to PEOPLE Employment Services on the evening of July 7 in celebration of the 30 workers who will be contracted to work for the City of Kelowna, among other partnering businesses and organizations.

“We are working with individuals that have faced systemic barriers but are incredibly personally resilient,” said Erin Welk, PEOPLE director. “Starting a program where we can demonstrate that these individuals are really important and powerful members of the community is something that we are really passionate about doing.”

READ MORE: Kelowna residents who have lived through homelessness share their insight with COJHS

“I’ve always had that working drive, but it comes to a point in one’s life where you can only take so much s—t before you lose it,” said Harold Smoke, one of the members on the PEOPLE cohort and the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH). “Once I started learning what (PEOPLE) was about … it really just changed my whole perspective on everything, really.”

PEOPLE Employment Services started in January 2019 as a program under the umbrella of Urban Matters, a social enterprise that “helps communities deliver tangible solutions so that people can live happier and healthier lives,” according to their website. Early next year, Welk said PEOPLE will be its own organization in the new year.

READ MORE: Ex-homeless Rutland man says supportive housing too close to schools

“The idea came from (LECOH),” said Welk in regards to PEOPLE’s pragmatic solution-based program and relationship with Journey Home.

The students of PEOPLE go through training modules that teach them about culture, social strategies and financial literacy to prepare them for the workplace.

Once they finish the modules and graduate the program, PEOPLE provides a no-risk service to their contractors by supplying support systems to help the workers succeed at their new job and also by taking on the financial risks by managing income and contracts. No business is hiring graduates directly.

“(We have deliverables) in our contract,” said Welk. “(Partner businesses are) paying us to do that and we are paying the individuals for their work.”

READ MORE: Eli to be remembered by bridging the gap between Kelowna’s communities

“I realized that I was scared to get back into the workforce … this particular program kind of gave me that little confidence boost; the people are so supportive,” said Wanda MacKinnon, Kelowna resident and PEOPLE graduate. “I thought, ‘No. I can still work.’”

Welk said PEOPLE is in the process of finalizing details for the 2020 cohort and will aim to recruit 20 to 25 individuals with lived experience in homelessness.

To learn more, visit their website at www.peopleemploymentservices.com.


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David.venn@kelownacapnews.com

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