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West Kelowna's Peer Ambassadors help those experiencing homelessness

Despite the announcement that Kelowna’s temporary shelters will remain open, West Kelowna’s Bylaw Community Support Officer (CSO) has seen an influx in the number of people experiencing homelessness coming across the bridge into West Kelowna.

In a report headed to West Kelowna City Council on Tuesday, providing an update on the Peer Ambassador program, CSO Danica Floto says she has witnessed an increase in people camping in parks, forests, trails, crown lands and close to businesses.

City manager Paul Gipps adds that many people are seen living in their vehicles or motorhomes due to the cost of housing in the Okanagan. In addition, the report explains that many of those people are not capable or suited for living in shelters.

However, results from a community survey indicate that residents and local businesses appreciate seeing the Peer Ambassadors in the community giving back and helping those experiencing homelessness.

The Peer Ambassadors help folks access things like doctor referrals, food, clothing, shelter and more. They are also involved in community outreach such as providing harm reduction supplies and even doing community clean ups.

The group provides mentorship and advice based on their own lived experiences to people experiencing homelessness and also local businesses.

<who> Photo Credit: CIty of West Kelowna

“Our persons with lived experience team up with existing services to help mediate interactions and spread awareness, understanding and education to other front-line services," the report explains.

The group partners with the Turning Points shelter, Westbank First Nation bylaw and Outreach personnel, the RCMP, Kelowna Area Network of Drug Users (KANDU) and the West Kelowna Foodbank.

Gipps explains that members of the program have been putting in a lot of effort to build relationships with a wide variety of people in the community.

“Our Peer Ambassadors continue to work on a weekly basis with the City of West Kelowna CSO and the peer employment coordinator and are clearly making a difference in changing the stigma of homelessness,” writes Gippps.

The Peer Ambassadors program is operated by Partners in Resources (Piers) which is funded through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).

“We continue to see incredible growth in terms of our Peers’ self-esteem and self-confidence as a result of their role in our community,” Gipps writes in the report.

In May 2021, council supported the UBCM grant to fund the Peer Ambassadors and an assigned CSO. The grant was approved in July and Danica Floto was appointed as the CSO in August. A three-month update was provided in December and this will be the six-month update for the program.

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