It’s cold, dark, and the snow is falling. Your feet are numb and your fingers are like icicles. You need a place to be warm …”
So began the talk that Katherine McParland delivered to audiences across Kamloops, throughout B.C. and beyond.
With an uncommon blend of courage, enthusiasm and vulnerability, Katherine openly shared her own life experiences: going to live in a shelter with her family as a child, living in 28 different foster homes and finally aging out of the system when she turned 19 and living on the street.
She turned those experiences into advocacy, founding A Way Home Kamloops.
Each year for the past four years, she inspired strait-laced businessfolk, city councillors and supporters of all ages and circumstances to spend a December night sleeping outside in a cardboard box. The goal is to raise funds for securing safe homes for young people in Kamloops and to heighten awareness of youth homelessness.
We did it with hardly a second thought. Thousands of dollars were raised. That was the power of this young woman.
To support A Way Home, Katherine surrounded herself with people who could help her achieve her mission. She persistently navigated red tape and — “rooted in action,” as she said — got things done.
She worked with the City of Kamloops to develop Canada’s first-ever Youth Homelessness Action Plan.
She assembled a board of directors and brought in corporate sponsors.
Katherine was known both locally and nationally, sat on the board of commissioners of BC Housing and worked with the federal government’s Advisory Committee on Homelessness.
A year ago, A Way Home Kamloops opened Safe Suites, communal housing for six youth ages 18 to 25 who are homeless. The suites are supported 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are specifically for those with complex mental-health and/or substance-use concerns.
Once basic needs are met, it becomes possible for folks to finish school, find work and make positive peer connections.
If we can catch young people before they age out of the foster system, Katherine explained, we’ll save lives and end up with fewer street-involved adults, too.
When our earliest experiences are marked by instability and abuse and we’ve learned that even those closest to us can’t be trusted, finding stability and hope can be difficult. That’s why housing a vulnerable young person takes more than just supplying a bed. It involves coaching, mentoring and support from people who truly get what it’s like to not have experienced comfort and safety.
Katherine got it. She worked hard to build trust with Kamloops’ most vulnerable youth and to offer them stability. Katherine reminded me, and many others, that behind every street-involved person is a human being with a story.
The next time we see someone sitting in front of a vacant building with a buggy full of belongings — a person who may be behaving erratically and who may have substance-use and mental-health issues — can we remember they were probably once a child who faced endless adversity? That they are someone who hasn’t yet had a chance to be encouraged by someone like Katherine and to see that things could be different?
More Safe Suites are needed. Will we rise to the challenge and carry forward the work of Katherine McParland?
A Way Home’s Campout to End Youth Homelessness takes place this Friday, Dec. 11. This year, you can participate from your backyard. To make a donation, go to awayhomekamloops.com.
Kathy Sinclair is a Kamloops councillor. Council columns appear monthly in the print edition of KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com. Sinclair’s email is email@example.com. To comment on this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.