May 28, 2019 8:11 pm
Updated: May 28, 2019 8:37 pm

Okanagan residents given small taste of life on the street

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It’s a simulator initiative that aims to realistically highlight some of the challenges homeless people in Kelowna face every day.

About a dozen people, from media types to concerned citizens, gathered Tuesday afternoon to take part in the “Take Steps” homelessness simulator.

It’s an exercise that has participants playing the roles of homeless people who have to navigate a complex web of social services.

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“It was very eye-opening,” Power 104 radio host Big Ginger said. “It was completely simulation. But with that you’re able to see how often you get tossed from line to line, ‘Oh like you’re not our problem anymore, off you go.’ It’s very saddening.”

The homelessness simulator exercise is hosted by four organizations: the John Howard Society, United Way, Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and The City of Kelowna.

The pilot project was supported with a grant from the Central Okanagan Foundation.

Homeless advocates hope to bring the exercise to more members of the public.

“This is our third pilot, this is our last pilot, ” Dawn Himer said. “We are going to continue a little bit on a volunteer basis. Our hope is that it would be sustainable and that we could employ people with lived experience ultimately.”

With a homelessness crisis in the city, organizers hope the exercise helps build empathy for those down on their luck.

“I think what it does is it sort of breaks down some of the barriers and some of the stigma, and sort of creates a little bit less differential between us and them,” Himer said.

With the help of both provincial and federal government funding, the city is trying to get the homelessness situation under control.

READ MORE: Gov’t announces another supportive housing project for Kelowna

Through it’s ‘Journey Home’ strategy, more supportive housing like Hearthstone on Commerce Street is being built.

More than 100 units are already operational and about 150 more are coming in the next year.

READ MORE: Kelowna’s newest supportive housing complex about to welcome homeless tenants

“We are playing catch up right now,” said Gaelene Askeland, executive director of the Journey Home Society  “Once we have done that catch up, are there probably still going to be people on the street? Maybe, but not many.

“But it is a longer term thing. It’s not going to all happen this year but, over that five years, we will see a great difference in our community.”

Click here for more information on the Journey Home strategy.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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