Collaboration aims to improve services for homeless

UBC and Okanagan College team with community groups to tackle issue

Researchers at UBC Okanagan, Interior Health, Okanagan College, the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society and various human and health service sectors across the BC Interior, have received federal funding to explore ways to improve services for homeless people.

Funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) combined with funds from UBC and the Vancouver Foundation, brings the support total to $218,000, says John Graham, director of UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work.

It’s a multidisciplinary approach, he says, with scholars and grad students in engineering, medicine, neuroscience, management, nursing, the social sciences and social work. The group is evaluating three priorities.

“The first: improvements in technology-including database management improvements, and phone apps,” says Graham. “These are important in helping to make homelessness strategies more responsive, efficient, and at the same time, increasing the number of people who are able to be off the street.”

Second, says Graham, the group is examining how the homeless experience stigma and how business owners, neighbours, and service users and providers might better understand each others’ viewpoints.

“And finally, we are developing and evaluating a number of health and human service improvements. We need better delivery of the specific service needs of those who have experienced traumatic brain injury, versus a major mental disorder, a substance misuse, generalized trauma, each of which often frequently co-occurs.”

In 2018, the City of Kelowna adopted the Journey Home Strategy-a five-year plan to address homelessness with a focus on ensuring everyone has a place to call home. Journey Home’s goal is to ensure a coordinated and easy-to-access system of care for those in the region who have lost, or are at risk of losing, their home.

“We now have a team in place that will significantly contribute to service improvements and reductions in homelessness,” says Graham.

The research team expects more funding opportunities to come from this initiative.

“We should be able to leverage current funds to quickly get over the $1-million mark within a year,” states Graham. “I really want to see the university’s skills leveraged to help improve the homelessness response roll out across the region.

“Throughout, we are engaging with service providers, service users, and broader community members in direct ways that bring all parties to the table to co-develop regionally-specific solutions,” Graham adds. “Together with myriad partners across the city and region, we will make a difference that will be informed by rigorous empirical evidence.”

Partners in the initiative include:

  • BrainTrust Canada
  • Canadian Mental Health Association
  • Central Okanagan Journey Home Society
  • Central Okanagan School District
  • City of Kelowna
  • Kelowna Chamber of Commerce
  • Interior Health
  • John Howard Society
  • Kelowna Community Resources
  • Kelowna Friendship Society
  • Kelowna Gospel Mission
  • Ministry of Children and Family Development
  • Okanagan Boys and Girls Club
  • Okanagan College
  • Okanagan Nation Alliance
  • A Way Home Kelowna
  • Westbank First Nation

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