(This article is part five of a five-part series on the differing perspectives of the homeless versus mainstream culture and how that stigma associated with being homeless directly affects their relationships between authorities, public space and themselves.)
Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick and Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said adopting or supporting the adaptation of a Homeless Charter of Rights is a possibility for both the city and B.C.
The document, which was created by a Calgary-based homeless organization, outlines the human rights of people who experience homelessness, such as their right to access space, facilities, social services, health care and to be treated with respect and dignity.
“From what I know about the Homeless Charter of Rights, it’s a social movement designed to make everyone agree that people experiencing homelessness have the right to access health care, housing and justice. I think we can all accept that—I think that’s what we’re all trying to do,” Basran said.
Letnick said he supports the rights of everyone, including people who experience homelessness.
He did not specify whether or not he supported the charter, but he said: “I will discuss its contents with my colleagues in Victoria when we return this fall.”
Sherry Landry, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society outreach co-ordinator, said she would like to see something similar adopted or recognized provincewide.
While the City of Calgary was addressing its own homelessness issue, an institution, similar to Central Okanagan Journey Home Society (COJHS), ratified the document.
The charter is a document brought to life by the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), the CHF Client Action Committee (CAC) and the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
The City of Calgary has not adopted the charter, CAC member Nigel Kirk said, but the committee is currently working to make that happen.
The document has, however, influenced many of the policies and initiatives taken by the CHF, which has—directly or indirectly—shown an increase in quality of life for people who experience homelessness in Calgary, Kirk stated.
For example, the James Short park, on top of a parkade in downtown Calgary, is known as a tolerant zone for people who experience homelessness.
This has been a milestone for people who experience homelessness, Kirk said.
“There have been more movements to add some more public spaces—allowing homeless people to hangout there during the day without being harassed by police officers,” Kirk said, noting that Calgary is not perfect and that they still have quite a ways to go.
“It’s happening less and less frequently.”
Reciprocation started with the media and spiralled from there.
Once the public saw how people who experience homelessness were being treated, initiatives such as the homeless charter took off, with shelters and storefronts posting outside their buildings, Kirk said.
“A lot of it has just been public awareness,” Kirk said. “A lot of police officers are under a lot more scrutiny so they had to step back a little bit when it comes to harassing members of the homeless community.”
The downfall, Kirk said, is there’s no way to enforce the charter—it is a document not enforced by legislation but rather by the goodwill and empathy of others.
John Graham, UBC Okanagan’s school of social work director and COJHS member, said there must be social cohesion throughout Kelowna to solve this widespread and varying issues associated with homelessness.
“We need to ensure that public dialogue remains open and full so that the perspectives of all parties (are heard),” he said.
“We’ve got some real potential to do some real good here.”
Basran expressed similar virtues in finding a community solution.
“We know that in order to truly address homelessness, the support of the community as a whole will be needed to be fully effective,” Basran said.
“Everyone can play a role. As our lived and living experience people have told us, stigma and discrimination are some of the greatest barriers they face in our community every day.
“Simply saying hello can make the greatest difference for those struggling to find their place in our community.”
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
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