Producing a video on homelessness taught a handful of Terrace youths a lot about the issue, and now they are challenging Terrace city council and others to get more informed and take action.
Seven youths on the city’s youth advisory committee produced the six-minute, documentary-style video over the last year, including interviews with a homeless outreach worker, the RCMP, and several residents of Terrace.
Ryan Kunar, member of the youth advisory committee, said the goal driving the video was developed as they were working on the project and learning about the issue.
“We slowly started finding all these misconceptions about homelessness,” Kunar said. “From there, we realized that we need to educate people… so we started building our video towards [the goal of] ending the misconceptions and giving education.”
The group posted the video on YouTube under the Skeena Diversity channel, and plan to promote it online and show it to several city committees.
“We’re basically trying to spread it as far as possible,” Kunar said.
He said that he had several misconceptions of his own when they started the project, which were corrected as the project went along.
“Going into it, I thought that if there was someone intoxicated on the street, they were probably homeless, but in reality some of those people actually do go back to their houses. They aren’t [always] the homeless people,” he said.
“I learned about the causes of homelessness, which was surprising because I thought it was just basically, ‘oh they are addicted to something.’”
Through the project, Kunar says learned about the complex situations behind homelessness, and understands a bit more the challenges people face dealing with stress or addictions, or unable to find work or housing.
The youth advisory titled their video “Swept under the rug,” as a challenge to city council and to others.
“We felt that is what is happening with homelessness right now,” Kunar explained.
“You don’t really want to see it, you kind of push it to the side and say ‘we are trying to fix it,’ and you are just waiting to see what happens. but then it just comes back even worse because there’s more and more of it,” he said.
Grace Thompson, another member of the committee said the group felt that was a common attitude of many people in Terrace.
People say “‘we’ll just move the shelters to the outskirts of town or by the airport or something, and then we won’t have to see the homeless people,” she pointed out.
“People think that ignoring them will solve the problem but that’s really not what’s going to happen.”
Kunar said the title and the video was meant to be a challenge.
“We wanted to make the point that, ‘this is happening, this is a reality, and we need to fix this. This is not something that we can sweep under the rug. We’ve got to change something here,’” he said.
The youths took a film-making course late last fall and this video that they produced centred around an interview with a homeless outreach worker from TDCSS, with shorter clips of input from the RCMP and several residents of Terrace.
“We wanted to get a variety of different perspectives, but we also wanted people who interact with [the homeless],” said Thompson, adding that they included the people they felt would have the most knowledge about the issue.
“It’s kind of hard to speak about the subject if you haven’t really had many conversations with homeless people,” she explained.
Thompson said one of the things she learned through the interviews and video production was how important prevention programs are.
“I learned that prevention of homelessness is important, and we don’t always see that side,” Thompson said.
“TDCSS is working pretty hard to help people who are on or below the poverty line, who are very close to homelessness. They are helping them manage to scrape by, not get evicted, and helping them with their hydro bills and things like that. If we didn’t have programs like that, the homeless situation could be a lot worse,” she said.
Interacting with homeless people as they produced the video this spring also put a face to the issue, showing him more personally the real people and real struggles.
Kunar said he was surprised to see how friendly homeless people were with each other.
“When we think of homeless people, we think of them by themselves with no home, no one to be their family. But seeing them on the streets, they are all connected with each other, they are one big family,” he said. “There is a family, even if there is no home.”
Kunar said he learned also that those connections can make it more challenging for people caught in the homeless trap.
“One of the problems is that they don’t want to leave their family sometimes because that’s all they have, that’s all they want.”
Grace Thompson, another youth on the advisory, said she also noticed that challenge as well, particularly for those struggling with addictions.
Surrounded by the influence of people around them drinking, it’s really hard for the person who is trying to stop, she said.
“But they might not have anywhere to go, and once they are in that environment, and there’s no detox centre here, it’s really hard for them to keep up with that.”
She met a first year apprentice carpenter who wound up homeless because he could not find an affordable place to live.
“Because he was on street, hanging around with a lot of people who were abusing alcohol, he started doing that,” she said, adding that he eventually lost his job.
“His boss told him he could go back if he wanted, but it was not possible at that time… Because he didn’t have a home to go to, it was impossible for him to stabilize his life again,” Thompson said.
The experience “reveals that homeless people are not just useless unemployables, which a lot of people think,” she said. “Some of them may have skills but they simply weren’t able to afford their rent or, for one reason or another, were not able to find a job.”
She added that it also showed her the complexity of the issue.
“It’s not just one thing that will help people solve the problem. You need housing and possibly mental health or addictions support, and a source of income at the same time,” she said.
“Just putting people in shelters or just sending them off to a detox centre will not solve the problem. It has to be multiple things at once, otherwise if people don’t have a stable environment, they won’t be able to solve the problems.”
Having learned so much and becoming personally involved in the homeless issue themselves, the youths also presented city council with a challenge.
“We want to propose that all of you spend at least one day helping out with one of the homeless services. Spend a day and see what its like for all the service workers there and learn a bit more,” he said.
Mayor Carole Leclerc and councillor Sean Bujtas said they would take up the challenge, and councillor Michael Prevost said that though he is involved in an organization, he will spend a day with a different organization that he knows less about.