Ensuring a welcoming, safe, and vibrant community where everyone can feel at home is key to nurturing the type of community our citizens told us they want through Imagine Kelowna.
Social wellness is at the forefront of many initiatives and efforts underway by the City. We understand and share residents’ concern about social wellness issues such as poverty, homelessness and challenges related to affordable housing in our community.
Rising poverty rates and concerns about inflation are not unique to Kelowna; however, the lack of affordable housing does compound the issue. Communities throughout B.C. are seeing similar trends and it is increasingly important that senior levels of government recognize and take action to support diverse housing and social supports, to ensure everyone can have a home in our community.
Building a social and inclusive community
Kelowna is one of many municipalities actively responding to complex social changes and needs emerging in our present-day society. These issues are top-of-mind for our citizens as demonstrated through recent citizens surveys, where concern around social issues have dominated the public issue agenda over the past several years.
We are working toward social policies and plans that will help us to improve the social well-being of all community members. We are also collaborating with community partners and other levels of government to create the conditions required to support the well-being of all citizens.
The City partnered with Urban Matters CCC and PEOPLE (Paid Employment Opportunities for People with Lived Experience) Employment Services to deliver the PEOPLE Peer Navigator and Capacity Building Program. The vision from our Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH) includes the concept of having peer navigators embedded into all social serving organizations as supports for individuals seeking assistance.
This program recruits, trains and employs people in specific peer navigator roles within social-serving organizations to help build the skills and confidence of those with lived experience. Peer Navigators have personally experienced homelessness and understand the challenges in accessing support services so they can aid and support others through that process.
The Knknxtəwix̌ “We walk hand in hand” Indigenous Harm Reduction and Structural Stigma Dialogue with the Healthcare Sector program aims to better equip the healthcare system to serve the needs of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities.
It seeks to grow cultural sensitivity within harm reduction services, and reduce stigma and racism faced by Indigenous people and other marginalized communities. It was developed in partnership with local indigenous organizations and is made possible by $662,433 in funding from the Government of Canada through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP). It is one of 73 projects SUAP is funding in Canada to help address the ongoing toxic drug crisis.
The City’s Strong Neighbourhoods initiative, established in 2014, has numerous opportunities for Kelowna residents to foster and develop social connection at the neighbourhood-level. Since the program’s creation, more than 4,500 residents have participated in 54 neighbourhood projects and more than 82 block socials have been supported across Kelowna.
In addition to grant funding to support neighbourhood-enhancing projects and neighbourhood events, the Strong Neighbourhood’s new Block Connector program further supports residents in building a strong sense of community.
The 2040 OCP, completed in 2021, guides how our city will grow over the next 20 years. The OCP provides a policy framework that addresses issues including housing, safety, transportation, infrastructure, and economic development. Overall, the OCP sets the foundation for a more equitable and sustainable future through ongoing implementation actions.
Creating a strong and community-driven social policy framework will help to provide a blueprint to help evaluate and prioritize investment, and better highlight opportunities for coordination between stakeholders, making better use of limited resources to address community social needs linked to Kelowna’s overall social well-being.
The health issues and struggles of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness, staying in shelters, or in precarious housing, impacts not only their individual health, but also community functioning and the wellness of all. Homelessness is not unique to Kelowna, but is presenting as a dynamic and rapidly-changing problem all across Canada. Here in Kelowna, guided at the foundation by the voices of those with lived experience, addressing homelessness and its root causes are a key priority with many City initiatives and collaborative efforts underway:
We’re responding to the changing homelessness crisis in our community by establishing a new team to lead the renewal of the Journey Home Strategy. The City is working collaboratively with housing and social sector partners to reset the Journey Home Strategy so goals and targets match current conditions and challenges. We remain focused on improving conditions for people experiencing homelessness in Kelowna and ultimately solving homelessness. Learn more at kelowna.ca/journeyhomestrategy.
In developing the Journey Home Strategy, there was a strong commitment to honouring, listening, and learning from the voices of those that have experience with homelessness in Kelowna. Understanding the first-hand challenges from those who have experienced, or are currently experiencing homelessness in our community, was a crucial first step.
The Lived Experience Circle of Homelessness (LECoH) is a voice for those experiencing homelessness or those at risk of homelessness; creating openness with understanding, releasing fear and judgement and initiating change. People who are experiencing homelessness usually have the best understanding about what the problem is and what needs to be done to address it. Inclusion is especially vital in the context of homelessness because being excluded and silenced is a huge part of the experience of homelessness and poverty.
Through engagement strategies, the need to introduce peer-support models as potential service strategies emerged. Peer supports refer to programs, including training and support, that engage people with lived experience and connects those in need to the appropriate supports.
The Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH) identified stigma as an important contributor to homelessness early in the development of the Journey Home Strategy. They saw stigma as more than an emotional hardship or a cause of hurt feelings, they saw it creating real barriers that prolong and perpetuate homelessness. As part of the Strengthening Communities Services Grant, with LECoH's guidance, the City has directly supported the creation and launch of the Face Homelessness public awareness campaign, aimed at reducing the stigma faced by people in our community who experience homelessness. By treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their life circumstances, everyone can help to remove the barriers that stigma creates.
The Navigation Hub is a safe outdoor space for those experiencing homelessness to access during the day. Community partners are working towards coordinating the provision of health and support services based on the identified needs as operation of the site evolves. This new site, a first of its kind in Kelowna, opened June 2, 2022. The goal of the Navigation Hub is to ensure that people sheltering outdoors have access to the social and health supports they may need and to enhance coordination between partners as they respond to these needs.
Work is underway to finalize this plan which includes a vision and framework that is tailored to address local needs in the delivery of local shelter services, and positions Kelowna for provincial investment.
Kelowna Council endorsed the City’s Complex Needs Advocacy Paper in July 2021 and has been a leading voice in the call for enhanced care and support for B.C. residents with the most complex health and mental health needs. In September 2022, the Provincial Government confirmed funding to deliver up to 20 complex care housing and supports spaces in Kelowna.
The longer a person experiences homelessness, the more their health and well-being suffers. There is a greater likelihood to experience criminal victimization and trauma, substance use and mental health challenges worsen, and social and economic isolation increase; all of which make it more challenging to access services and housing. Learn more about complex care in Kelowna.
Investment in City staff and resourcing dedicated to nurturing social wellness, including social development staff which work closely with Journey Home and the social-services sector.
- The City committed in-kind staff support together with $150,000 in annual funding for the first two years of the five-year duration of the Journey Home Strategy, and increased the commitment to $250,000 annually for the final three years (2021-2023).
- Continuing to support the Kelowna Outreach and Situation Table (KOaST) in their efforts to intervene and connect at-risk individuals to reduce potential harm.
- Continuing to facilitate the Community Inclusion Team with a focus on creating and maintaining conditions for success for supportive housing sites.
We need to be responsive, resourceful, and inventive in working collaboratively to develop, and advocate for, local and regional solutions to address complex social issues such as rising rates of poverty. The goal is to ensure that all citizens, in particular our most vulnerable, have access to opportunities that help to lift them out of poverty.
The broader topic of housing is a community-wide issue that directly impacts people's physical and social health. City planners and Interior Health public health practitioners worked together to create the five-year Healthy Housing Strategy, endorsed by Council in June 2018. The Strategy was developed in alignment with the Journey Home Strategy to address Council’s top priorities of homelessness and housing diversity.
The City of Kelowna is developing the Central Okanagan Poverty and Wellness Strategy (COPAWS) in partnership with the Regional District of Central Okanagan, the City of West Kelowna, and the districts of Lake Country and Peachland.
The strategy calls for creation of a governance structure and infrastructure designed to support, guide and coordinate poverty-reduction efforts in the Central Okanagan. With guidance from those who have directly experienced poverty and/or homelessness in our region, it includes tactics to improve access to transportation, housing, health and wellness, food, and financial resources. It also seeks to address inclusion and community belonging challenges by facilitating participation in community recreation, promoting diversity and accessibility, and creating welcoming places.
Youth between 13 and 24 years old make up approximately 20 per cent of the homeless population in Canada. Early intervention initiatives and strategies are vital to support children and families.
The Youth Services Framework identifies several promising practices and initiatives to prioritize the collective needs of Kelowna’s youth, especially those who may be more vulnerable, including:
- Increasing opportunities for programs and safe spaces for youth
Initiatives such as navigation support by a Youth Navigator, training and skill building for staff supporting youth and setting up low-barrier youth programs.
- Strengthen the youth-serving system through community collaboration
Establish, support and facilitate an ongoing working group focused on responding to the needs of youth, trends in services, and enhancement of assets and healthy opportunities for youth in the community. The goal is to convene community stakeholders to develop a systems approach to youth services (every door is the right door).
- Engaging, enabling, and supporting youth development
Working with youth and the community, efforts are underway to develop a comprehensive Youth Strategy that supports collaboration and coordination of upstream/mid-stream/downstream responses.
As we look to increase the number of child care spaces within the Central Okanagan, systemic child care challenges must be considered. A multi-dimensional, community approach through the Care for our Kids project is underway to improve child care in the region.
The Care for our Kids project is the result of a successful regional application to the Community Child Care Planning program from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development and Union of BC Municipalities. The City of Kelowna was the project lead for the grant, collaborating with the City of West Kelowna, District of Lake Country and District of Peachland, along with the Child Care Council of Central Okanagan. This project included a child care needs assessment and action plan for the Central Okanagan area.
This project highlighted four areas of focus:
- Collect information regarding child care needs of the community;
- Create an inventory of existing child care spaces;
- Establish space creation targets over the next 10 years;
- Identify actions that can be taken to meet space creation needs.
The collection of this information was intended to help local governments, the child care community, as well as provincial decision-makers better understand the child care needs regionally and in their community, and make informed decisions on future child care planning.
We all benefit from a community that is welcoming, social and inclusive -- where everyone has access to economic, recreational and social opportunities. For the whole community to be healthy, we need everyone to be healthy.