Secwepemc Restorative Justice Coordinator Edith Fortier Sheds Light on Our Homeless Crisis



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Edith Fortier, Restorative Justice Coordinator for the Secwepemc Community Justice Program, has been an advocate for the health and well being of others since she was a child looking after her younger siblings. She grew up looking out for her classmates, standing up for those who were being bullied, and helping others with school work.

Edith has been working as a Restorative Justice Coordinator in Kamloops for 20 years and previous to that as an Aboriginal Justice Worker assisting clients on probation or parole.

Her role is vast and includes networking with BC Native Courtworkers, First Nation Court, Schools, RCMP, Crown Counsel, Probation Office and the Parole Office on an ongoing basis to promote and discuss restorative justice and its process. She assists in the coordination of the Secwepemc Community Justice Program (SCJP) facilitators and volunteers. She receives referrals from referring agents and coordinates funding.

In this article, Edith talks about our homeless people: life skills, employment, housing needs, crime, addiction, single parenting, unresolved trauma, and mental illness.  Having such a great level of experience and knowledge on the subject, I have opted to simply let Edith share with us in her own, well-written words:

“What do homeless people look like? Do they walk the streets all day rain or shine with all belongings in a buggy? Are they veterans with PTSD, or recently divorced and no longer have a home?  Maybe they are a student or many students sleeping on the floor, couch surfing, or sharing one apartment to get an education.  Maybe they are a business person who is well dressed but sleeps in his car.

Many people have not learned necessary life skills growing up as some of the younger generation may not know as much, due to too much technology and failure on my part to teach them skills. Some of them are highly intelligent and need to be given an opportunity to prove themselves.

It is a challenge watching people struggle and helping them find solutions without enabling them. There is a lack of available resources. I find funding for clients and help people to participate in programs or training. I often wish I had enough money to help individuals and organizations on a bigger scale instead of short term. The struggle is real for some people.

I often look at ways I can help others whether it’s helping them to find shelter for one night,  telling them which organizations offer meals, and sometimes where to apply for housing or employment. I learned about the storage bins people can place their belongings in for a night or a week at no cost as many were affected when the greyhound depot closed and could no longer store stuff in the lockers.

When housing needs are required, individuals may struggle with how to complete the contracts, leases, forms, and references. Many are not sure where to access internet or services to get housing. At times individuals will have little to no furniture and be unsure how to ask for help from having low self esteem and often they settle for little or no basic needs.

Poverty and lack of access to affordable housing are a significant cause of homelessness. Many choose between paying rent or mortgage and bills or food. Some move to a warmer climate such as Vancouver or Victoria so they can sleep in a tent or low cost rooming houses.

Sometimes crimes are committed because over the winter the homeless need a place to stay and three squares a day, even if it is in custody.

I know some people frown at homeless people because they might not understand why they became homeless. Some homeless people get involved in prescription/illegal drug or alcohol to mask their pain, or gambling which is often followed by addiction.

What benefits do the doctors or pharmacists/drug companies receive when they prescribe or dispenses drugs/medications? Sometimes if medication is prescribed over a long term a person can become addicted and need the drug to function. After my surgery I had a doctor wanting to prescribe me painkillers and I said I don’t need them.
There are single dads working and taking the Respectful Relationships Program, finding babysitters, car seats, strollers, and taking the bus with their children after work. It is  challenging but they make the commitment to take part in the program to better themselves. At times advocating for the young, single parents to assist them with the services they require is part of my job.

There are lots of single parent men caring for their children. Today, lots of grandparents are raising their grandchildren instead of the parent, which is a pretty sad inter-generational impact of the residential schools.

Young people have lost their way, choosing the wanna be grown up gang lifestyle, having children when they are children, choosing addictions over their children. Young adults struggle with their parents kicking them out of the house and they have no place to live. One young lady was kicked out of her mom’s home and sadly she committed suicide the same day.

There is lots of unresolved trauma. Often children, teens, and young adults are told ‘don’t talk about it’ and grow up and tell their children the same until an individual breaks the cycle of becoming aware of the trauma and learns new skills of coping with the many struggles of life. The residential schools were a form of terrible genocide which some individuals don’t discuss, rather, they get professional counselling, attend residential treatment facilities, or find support groups to help.

Mental illness is a factor. When individuals struggle with mental health issues even their caregivers, parents or families take advantage of them financially, causing the individual to have no place to live. This is a codependent situation in which the parent has control over their adult child, controlling their life by using money, even to the point of having the children’s inheritance of a home taken from them so the parent can rent it out and keep the money.
Some Child and Family Agencies and other professionals are not sensitive or aware of the current issues, going by the book so to speak, causing more pain than good to some degree. At times workers can have all the education or degrees, but no experience or knowledge in real life, and that impacts the future generations.”

Edith is a wealth of knowledge and I will be following up with her again in the future to discuss these kinds of issues further.

She enjoys helping others and seeing them successfully completing programs and learning life skills.  Her passion in life is to give people hope and brighten their day even if it is just a little.

Edith would like to thank all the people who volunteer or make donations to help others.







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