7 Ways to Support People Living Unhoused in Our City

This week we’re sharing a new resource developed by OneSky Community Resources and the South Okanagan + Lived Experience group, in conjunction with the Downtown Churches for Social Justice.

Details on different ways to support people living unhoused in our city are highlighted below:

7 Ways to Support People Living Unhoused in Our City:

1.     Be kind to people who appear to be unhoused or facing housing insecurity. Often folks facing these challenges are also experiencing complex trauma, and a chronic reality of being unsafe. If you interact with someone, consider how challenging living unhoused is. They may be untrusting, and upset with their current situation: having all belongings robbed or confiscated and being treated disrespectfully is a constant pain for unhoused peoples. As is being denied bathroom facilities and the ability to stay warm or dry indoors. Folks may not have the inner resources to smile or be friendly depending on what their experience is in that day. They may even be angry or upset. The anger is not about you, but about bigger challenges that can’t even be expressed. We can be kind, humble and courteous in spite of how someone’s demeanour may be. Respecting folks space if they are camped out trying to stay safe for the day is important. If you feel compelled, minor gifts such as a bottle of water or a sleeping bag, can be meaningful for anyone who feels pushed to the margins. Acknowledging and forming light connection shows that people matter, and can go a long way to give someone hope in a hard time. Be mindful that after dark, folks are trying to find spaces to sleep for the night. If you have gifts to drop off or donate, find a public space during the day to bring offerings, and respect the vulnerabilities of folks living unhoused by not recording stories, photos or videos… their stories are theirs to share alone, and if they are shared, they should be the ones to determine the terms of it.

2. Change your language from “homeless person” to “person experiencing homelessness”.  People with Lived Experience of being unhoused often talk about how they dislike being labelled by a current part of their life, especially one that many associate as being a moral or character failing. By changing our language, we can put the person first and refer to the situation that a person is experiencing as an experience rather than an identity. Homelessness is a stigmatized concept, and has historically been seen as a character flaw, without considering the complex challenges that may have brought a person to be facing housing insecurity.

3.       Donate gently used items such as sleeping bags, blankets, sweaters, coats, socks, boots, toques, gloves, tents and tarps to local organizations who will distribute to folks facing housing insecurity. Donations of shampoo, soap, shaving supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, wet wipes, tampons, and feminine pads are also very helpful. Local organizations who are always connecting items to folks in need include: Ooknakane Friendship Centre, Okanagan Transition Emergency House, SOWINS, Keep the Cold Off Penticton, Penticton +Area Overdose Prevention Society, Foundry Penticton, Victory Shelter, Compass House Shelter and the Anglican Church Free Store. If you have leftover produce from your garden or food perishables from your business, you can connect with a local organization who can distribute food donations, such as the local Food Bank, Fill the Food Gap Penticton, The Soupateria, Oasis United Church or Ooknakane Friendship Centre. Pet food is also needed if you ever buy the wrong food and need to redistribute.

4.       Learn more and take opportunities to share. Attend online webinars or courses, or listen to educational videos on the complex issues surrounding homelessness. Knowledge is power. Everything you learn you can share with others. Educate yourself, your family and your community about the issues of homelessness and the factors that can lead to it.  Some people are born into families that experience chronic financial and housing insecurity. Others are born with debilitating disabilities and chronic pain which can result in reliance on strong painkillers. Homelessness can be chronic or situational and can be caused by many factors such as a relationship breakdown, loss of job, disasters impacting buildings or various health issues – the fact is that none of us is immune to experiencing homelessness. Remember: People experiencing homelessness want to get off the street and the sobering fact is that not one of us is immune to this risk – it could happen to anyone.

5.       Demand affordable and supportive housing from all levels of governments. It is easy to find pre made letter templates online that you can copy, paste and then edit with your own personal views or local stats. Often provincial, municipal and federal governments try to slough the responsibility of housing onto each other. Remind political leaders that housing is every government’s jurisdiction, and let them know if the issues of housing will impact your vote. Attend municipal meetings for housing projects. Share your voice on these matters. Tell the City Council and City that your vote is for more housing. Let them know what you need to see. If you are concerned about high density or low income buildings in certain areas of the city, come up with solutions about where high density buildings would best be located and share these ideas. Sometimes projects can get stopped because no one is coming up with solutions everyone can agree on. Contributing ideas, researching what other communities have done and problem solving is necessary for handling the housing crises we are facing all throughout the nation.

6.       Volunteer at a local organization or for a fundraiser. Local organizations, such as the Soupateria or Keep the Cold Off Penticton have practices teams you can work to directly support folks who may be unhoused or facing housing insecurity. Alternatively, you could also volunteer your time to participate in fundraising for such organizations. If you have a friend willing to do it with you, you can even hand out care packages or water at a public location during the day. Care packages can include necessity items to be to support people experiencing homelessness to cope with daily survival while they figure out their next living situation. Always go with a partner, and always stay in visible public places. Some folks who are unhoused can at times experience visual or auditory hallucinations and paranoia without the stability of housing, regular sleep and proper medical appointments to attend to their health. Folks may lash out at unseen objects or beings and unintentionally hurt someone, so always keep your own safety as the top priority.

7. Challenge or change your worksite to make safe adjustments to support or create safer space for people living unhoused. Every business and organization is different with what capabilities and strengths they have. There are a variety of ways, as mentioned above, in which we can support people who are unhoused. Maybe your worksite or business can contribute to one of the above. Maybe you can set up a pay it forward system where patrons of your business can donate towards paying for a coffee for someone who can’t afford to buy one. Maybe your employer can offer small odd jobs such as cleaning windows or shoveling snow to folks living at a local shelter who could use the cash. Maybe your work team can collect donations or participate in an educational webinar or film viewing. Maybe your restaurant can reserve an outdoor table for people unhoused who need to be able to watch their belongings. The possibilities are endless.

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