A healthy, welcoming community for everyone, regardless of housing status, is the theme of this year’s Homelessness Action Week (HAW).
Organized by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, 11 municipalities in the Lower Mainland, as well as Kelowna and Nelson, HAW is holding events for homeless people from October 7 to 13, including Homeless Connect projects, which offer one-stop shops for individuals in need of medical care, housing, legal assistance and more.
HAW is aiming their education campaign at housed community residents, with hopes of ending the “Not In My Back Yard” mentality regarding social housing and shelters by promoting volunteerism.
“We’re focusing on the stories of volunteers: what brings out people to make a difference in their communities when it comes to homelessness, and through that lens hopefully educate people who might be apprehensive about (homelessness) projects,” says Helesia Luke, senior consultant and campaign specialist with Ethos Strategy Group, which coordinates public awareness for HAW.
After conducting a poll of 1,006 adults in the Lower Mainland with the Angus Reid Forum, Luke says organizers have a better understanding of people's values regarding homelessness and community.
Only one in three respondents were happy with the progress made on homelessness in their communities, while 71 per cent believe it's possible to have a community where everyone who wants a home can have one.
“We all believe these wonderful value statements, but also then have to accept that if everyone has a home in our community, then that home could be in the next block from where we live,” says Luke, who is also a Megaphone board member.
Luke believes encouraging people to take the energy they use to stop new shelters or social housing from being built, and putting it into volunteering for projects that help end homelessness, is a way to build a more inclusive community.
“The more volunteers come out and help, the more they understand what the real causes are of homelessness and that sometimes it’s just circumstances—bad luck, tragedy—that comes into people’s lives, and then they can carry that message on.”