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Homelessness Response Summit Takes Small Steps Towards Larger Goals

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
June 19th, 2024
A community approach to addressing the homelessness crisis in rural British Columbia through meaningful building blocks, continued to make headway at the second annual West Kootenay Homelessness Response Summit.
Held in Trail in late-April, the two-day summit included 220 diverse participants who came together to listen, learn, share, discuss and develop achievable goals towards solutions. Selkirk College students and instructors, regional service providers, political leaders, government representatives, businesspeople, community advocates, and people with lived and living experience of homelessness took part in vital participatory action research being conducted by Selkirk Innovates as part of the broader three-year Bridging Rural Homelessness and Well-Being: A Sustainable and Collaborative Response project.
“You can’t necessarily see strengthened relationships, but that is happening when we bring diverse perspectives together,” said Jayme Jones, Selkirk Innovates researcher and project lead. “The overall goal of the project is to improve the wellbeing of those experiencing homelessness in our region. What that looks like and how we get there is something we determine together. Project objectives help us work towards our goal, which include building and strengthening relationships, building regional capacity through Selkirk College students and faculty, and conducting research for evidence-based decision making.”
Funded through the Social Science & Humanities Council of Canada and Mitacs, with cash and in-kind contributions from community partners, the social innovation project began in the fall of 2022. Selkirk Innovates—the research arm of Selkirk College— hosted the two-day summit, with the City of Trail and the Trail Community Action Team supporting as co-hosts. The event was also sponsored in part by BC Housing.
A focus of this year’s summit was to develop “SMART Actions” which are characterized by specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely outcomes. Eight SMART Actions that emerged from the summit included: a community kindness campaign; local government specific mini-summit; a regional anti-stigma program; a community perceptions survey; a regional child and youth family committee; a West Kootenay housing task force; peer and volunteer training for day-to-day advocacy; and peer engagement for stigma reduction.
Targeting the communities of Nelson, Trail and Castlegar, moving forward with the SMART Actions will involve Selkirk College students, faculty, local government, community organizations and other stakeholders.
“Homelessness is a complex issue,” said Jones. “When you work in complexity, it’s an invitation for two important things: diverse perspectives and experimentation. You need to try something and learn from it. Some things will work and some will not, and that’s okay because it’s part of the process. We need everyone at the table with the diverse perspectives and we need to experiment for solutions that work for us.”
Hearing Stories from the Street
An important element of understanding homelessness is hearing authentic voices. This year’s summit began with an evening presentation from Guy Felicella, a renowned speaker with lived experience who advocates for those who suffer from addition and mental health issues that have fueled the current toxic drug crisis. Felicella spent 20 years living homeless on the notorious Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and shared what helped him break from that situation.
“Guy’s presentation was about the power of connection,” Jones said of the impactful talk. “How simple it can be to change someone’s life in a positive way just by being there and being kind.”
During the full-day session at the summit, participants also heard from a lived-experience panel that featured a group of 20 individuals who currently live on the streets of local communities.
“We are not statistics, we are not numbers… we are people,” said one of the participants on the panel. “Homelessness, drugs, domestic violence, these are problems… but they’re not the problem. They are by-products. If you don’t fix the trauma, this will never change. If the people are not there to try and fix the trauma, things like this event will continue to happen.”
As one of the co-hosts of this year’s event, the City of Trail welcomed the knowledge represented and the effort from the entire region to focus on an issue that is prevalent across British Columbia.
“This project reflects the strength of people coming together to build solutions and make great things happen in our communities,” said City of Trail Mayor Colleen Jones. “We know that housing is essential for a healthy and resilient community, and it continues to be a priority for the City of Trail to ensure residents have access to housing that meets their needs.”
The other co-host of the event was the Trail Community Action Team, a local organization focused on community education and action.
“The summit had a big impact on attendees,” said Tammy McLean, co-chair of the action team.
“People left with a better understanding on the struggles our unhoused residents face. They left with more compassion and with energy to help find solutions.”
The Selkirk Innovates team working on the larger project are now taking next steps that will include a summer survey aimed at gaining broader community perspectives. The third and final West Kootenay Homelessness Response Summit will take place next spring in Nelson.
Learn more information about the Bridging Rural Homelessness and Well-Being: A Sustainable and Collaborative Response project at:
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