The main issue facing Kamloops’ homeless population is a lack of affordable housing, according to TRU social work students who recently completed a project looking at homelessness.
In a project to raise awareness about the systemic nature of homelessness, students Codi Bergen, Ashley Martell, Mandy Foord, Nicola Falk and Hayley Wuschke spoke to women living on the streets about their concerns. The students did not disclose the names of the women interviewed.
There is still a pervasive narrative that homeless people are to blame for being homeless. The goal of the students’ project was to change this and to draw attention to ongoing housing concerns.
“When we talked to our peers, we got a lot of ‘I think women end up on the because of drug and alcohol addiction,’ and ‘they’re too lazy to get a job,’” Martell said.
A 2014 count found 95 people on Kamloops streets, plus an estimated 1,160 hidden homeless. This second group are individuals who would lose their homes with only a slight rent increase.
There are only 41 shelter beds in Kamloops.
One of the women in the study has been on a housing waitlist for 14 years. “She’s still on it, but she’s given up,” Martell said.
Even when shelter is available, the women cited safety concerns such as bed bugs, mice and unstable roommates. They also resented being treated like children in assisted housing, with curfews and limits on visitors.
The students found that homeless women experience huge stigma. Most of the time, they go to other members of the homeless community for help rather than those who have more to give.
“If they’re short money, someone from the homeless community will give them $10, where middle- and upper-class communities won’t give them a dime,” Falk said.
Attitudes towards alcohol consumption also illustrate this stigma.
“One of the ladies said that ‘after a stressful day, I do want to go buy a bottle of wine and drink’…how is that different from us? Why do they get judged so harshly for doing that?” Foord said.
Once on the street, getting a job can become difficult. According to Martell, being
homeless strips applicants of their credibility. Lack of a permanent address, paperwork, identification, and the money needed to apply for them are barriers for many people.
The women interviewed want the public to keep in mind that they are no less human than the rest of us. As summed up by Martell, “people aren’t just on the streets because of drug abuse. Not everyone can afford the housing here…people aren’t aware of the privilege that they have.”
The social work students contacted their sources through New Life Community outreach centre.