This past weekend, GNS hosted the Address Homelessness conference, intended to discuss the homeless situation in Victoria and to brainstorm solutions for this problem. The conference featured keynote speaker Kathy Stinson from Cool-Aid, an organization that provides housing and services to homeless individuals. There were also several workshops with parents from the GNS community and others affiliated with helping the homeless in Greater Victoria, followed by a service component to end the conference.
The conference was spearheaded—from the outset, and throughout—by Elizabeth Duncan and Amy Blandford, Grade 12 IB Diploma students at GNS. It was a completely student-organized initiative, with a small committee made up of senior school students. I sat down with Elizabeth after the conference to learn more about it.
KC: How do you feel the conference went, overall?
ED: I thought it went really well! All of the presenters gave very interesting and informative presentations, and I think all the attendees of the conference (myself included) learned more about homelessness in Victoria.
KC: Does the committee have any plans for addressing homelessness?
ED: We'd like to become involved with some of the organizations that presented at the conference, like Cool-Aid and Out of the Rain youth shelter. We're also interested in engaging with local government officials to find out more about how municipalities are dealing with homelessness in Greater Victoria.
KC: Do you think the GNS senior school does a good job of giving back to the community?
ED: I think we do a good job overall, but I think we focus on the same areas every year. It's great, but I think homelessness in Victoria is a very serious and imminent problem, and this conference was a step towards educating students about it. Since we already annually donate Christmas stockings to the Extreme Outreach organization, hopefully in the future we can have some more initiatives for the homeless community.
KC: Why do you think some people are reluctant to tackle the issue of homelessness—not just here in Victoria, but also across Canada?
ED: I think there's a stigma attached to [homelessness], and people generally don't know all of the factors that contribute to it. I've learned through this conference that it can really happen to anyone. The homeless aren't people who are choosing that life, or just being lazy. A lot of the time it is due to factors outside of their control; these factors need to be addressed, and people need to realize the reality of it, not just pretend it's not happening simply because it's not happening to them.
KC: Tell me more about the service you did to finish the conference that benefited the homeless.
ED: We really wanted to be able to do some meaningful service projects, so we had three separate components. The first was cooking for the Out of the Rain youth shelter in the cafeteria kitchen – that meal [shepherd’s pie] will be delivered to Out of the Rain over the holidays. We also went through the items we had collected through a winter clothing drive over the last month, as part of the conference that was open to the senior school students and staff. We collected 222 items in total, including jackets, scarves, hats, sweaters, and blankets. The Grade 12 class collected the greatest number of clothing items. Lastly, we made Christmas cards for both Cool-Aid and Out of the Rain to distribute to the homeless. We thought it was a nice way to brighten people's holiday seasons.
by Kiki Cekota, a member of the GNS Student Communications and Marketing group