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‘They are trying to push us out’: Film series highlights harsh reality of homelessness in Penticton

Tim, a Penticton man experiencing homelessness, is pictured smoking speed underneath a Penticton bridge to 'fight off the cold.' . Courtesy: Displaced: Living in the Shadows/Screenshot

An eye-opening film series released during Homelessness Action Week shows the harsh reality of living on the streets in Penticton, B.C.

The series of short films, which are approximately eight minutes in length, follow the journey of people experiencing homelessness in the South Okanagan town and is published on YouTube.

The project, called Displaced: Living in the Shadows, was created in collaboration between OneSky Community Resource’s South Okanagan and Lived Experience (SOLE) group and the United Way’s 100 More Homes of Penticton project.

One man featured is Tim, who said he’s lived in Penticton for 15 years. The camera operator follows Tim seeking refuge from the cold on a chilly winter day.

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“It wears on your soul after a while,” he said of his plight.

“I was living out of a backpack — it’s everything you own. If you’ve got a cart, somebody will rifle through it. Everything you own is up for grabs, basically.”

Tim is shown on camera smoking speed, which he said he uses to “fight off the cold.”

Tim takes the camera operator to a downtown bridge that crosses the Penticton Creek and shows the bars erected to keep homeless people from congregating underneath it.

“My friends used to camp underneath there and they barred it off because they don’t want us there. They don’t want homeless in their town so they bar us out, in every nook and cranny that they can,” Tim said.

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“They are trying to push us out of the city, and you can’t push homelessness out, it just goes somewhere else. It’s actually really ignorant that they bar us out where somebody can stay out of the community’s site, right.”

Another video features 71-year-old First Nations woman Dorothy, who said she experienced homelessness for 12 years before becoming eligible for social housing when she turned 60.

“I think homelessness has no boundaries, it takes anybody,” Dorothy said.

“Homelessness can be caused by alcoholism, trauma — every situation is different.”

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Dorothy said a series of traumas led her to a dangerous life on the streets.

“As a result of it I just slowly started collapsing and I couldn’t continue to work. Eventually, I just had to let everything go and you lose everything, your home, your vehicle, everything,” Dorothy said.

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“A home is important to me. I need a place to sleep and to cook my food and to keep warm, away from the sun, the snow, the rain, whatever weather conditions are out there. It’s not that easy.”

Tanya Behardien, chair of the 100 More Homes Penticton committee and executive director at OneSky Community Resources, said the project aims to shed light on real people’s experiences.

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“I think what is really important is that these are people’s real lives and when people think of homelessness, in the absence of real stories, people fill in the blanks of what they think the stories might be,” Behardien said.

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She added that affordable housing options need to keep up with the level of displacement.

“We are also looking at the notion of housing first and wanting to make sure that we provide people with immediate access to permanent housing with no pre-conditions, and I think that is the challenge with some of the housing that is available.”

The City of Penticton has been in the provincial spotlight in recent months for its response to homelessness as it battles the B.C. government over a controversial downtown emergency shelter.

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The city has filed a lawsuit to try to shut down the Winnipeg Street shelter, while the province fights back, arguing the shelter is vital to the well-being of the 42 people who live there.

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There are approximately 114 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Penticton, according to the latest provincial count completed in April.

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