Former director commemorated at 6th annual Campout to End Youth Homelessness

Community members gathered in the cold on Dec. 9 to raise money for vulnerable youth and remember organizer Katherine McParland.
Six individuals wearing winter jackets and A Way Home Kamloops toques stand at the front of a room. Another person is seen presenting on a video call shown on a computer monitor.
A Way Home Kamloops staff speak with attendees ahead of this year’s Campout to End Youth Homelessness. Kyra Grubb / The Wren

On Friday, Dec. 9, community members gathered at A Way Home Kamloops’ 6th annual Campout to End Youth Homelessness, an annual event and fundraiser held to advocate for homeless youth here in Kamloops (Tk’emlúps).

Each year, community members spend a cold night outside sleeping in cardboard boxes to honour unhoused youth forced to do the same each night. Campers also raise funds leading up to and after the event to support youth experiencing homelessness.

As a community reporter for The Wren, I chose to participate myself this year. The more I report on issues associated with vulnerable populations in Kamloops, the more I want to get involved with the non-profits and service providers doing wildly important work in our community.

As journalists, it is important to avoid bias, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid being a part of our community and giving back. Although I wasn’t able to stay the night due to being sick, I did attend the presentations organizers gave before the campout.

This year’s event was all the more meaningful because it was held in memory of Katherine McParland, the former executive director of A Way Home Kamloops and co-founder of the B.C. Coalition to End Youth Homelessness who passed away suddenly on Dec. 4, 2020, at the age of 32.

Organizers at the campout told attendees about their work in the community and McParland’s lasting impact. Due to her advocacy for youth who’ve aged out of foster care, Katherine’s Place, a 39-bed permanent housing complex, will open at 560 and 562 Tranquille Rd. late next year. 

A rendered image of Katherine's Place, a 39 bed permanent housing complex, shows what the building will look like. It's a modern grey and red building with between 4 and 5 floors.
A rendering of Katherine’s Place. Photo courtesy of A Way Home Kamloops.

Many of the campout participants crowded the Parkview Activity Centre across from McDonald Park, where they’d soon brave the cold together. Although spirits were high, heartfelt speeches about McParland and the legacy she left soon caused misty eyes and stuffy noses throughout the room. 

It soon became clear this year was different. There hadn’t yet been a campout since the pandemic and McParlands’s passing, and although participants were excited to take part in the fundraiser, McParland’s loss couldn’t be ignored. At this year’s event, her spirit was beautifully memorialized. 

Tangie Genshorek, A Way Home Kamloop’s current executive director, spoke with me before the event kicked off on Friday. She explained that a permanent housing complex for youth here in Kamloops has always been a tremendous goal because, as McParland repeatedly stated, “foster care is a highway to homelessness.” 

An estimated 40 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness in Canada have been involved with child welfare services, including group homes and foster care. McParland herself was homeless when she aged out of foster care after turning 19, Genshorek said. 

Genshorek told me permanent housing for youth is needed in Kamloops because youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness are often precariously housed. 

“[Youth] often suffer from a lot of the same issues that you see in adults dealing with homelessness, including mental health issues, substance abuse issues and poverty,” she said.

Four members of the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Centre sing and drum at the front of a room, while attendees watch.
Drummers from Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Centre start the night off in the Parkview Activity Centre. Kyra Grubb / The Wren

Before participants buckled in for a cold night outside, they were greeted by drummers from Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Centre. Later, after the presentations wrapped up, they ate pizza provided by local business Pizza Now and played an impromptu game of Dungeons and Dragons. 

Prior to setting up at the park, many stopped by a tree planted in McParland’s memory outside the activity centre to offer silent condolences.

As part of the Campout to End Youth Homelessness, seven makeshift shelters sit in the snow under some trees. Four of the shelters are cardboard structures with orange tarp over them, while the other three are small tents. Two people can be seen setting up their shelter.
Participants set up their beds for the night, with many sleeping in cardboard structures covered in tarps. Photo courtesy of A Way Home Kamloops / Facebook.

Like unhoused adults, unhoused youth often have to use available resources to stay housed whenever possible, Genshorek explained. “That means that they’re sometimes trading sex for housing or staying with people that are inappropriate to be staying with.” 

“Sadly, youth end up doing whatever they have to do to keep a roof over their head, and because they are young, people prey upon them,” she said.

Genshorek said that while Katherine’s Place is a massive step in the right direction, youth still slip through the cracks because of a lack of zero-barrier housing options for youth in the region. There’s still work to be done to house all the local youth in need of housing, she believes. 

“To access a lot of the housing [A Way Home] provides, [youth] have to set goals to later transition into future housing … they have to want to become independent. Some youth aren’t there yet,” Genshorek explained.

The organizer added many community members don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations about what it means to be homeless so young, but explained that stigma makes it even harder for youth to access resources.

“A lot of people don’t want to talk about people under 19 using substances or trading sex for housing. It’s hard enough to talk about people over 19 who struggle with those things,” she said. “But [youth] who are using substances or are forced to trade sex for housing deserve safety too.”

Genshorek shared that figuring out how A Way Home Kamloops can help keep those struggling youth safe while keeping other clients in housing is a huge goal and a welcome challenge for the nonprofit. 

A crowd of at least 30 people, all wearing coats and other winter gear, pose together under a gazebo during the Campout to End Youth Homelessness. Tables, chairs and cardboard boxes are in the foreground.
Some Campout to End Youth Homelessness attendees gather for a group photo between early-evening meals, games and conversations. Photo courtesy of A Way Home Kamloops / Facebook.

Although I didn’t get to spend the night, I left feeling touched by the moving events leading up to the campout. I won’t forget McParland, and like those that knew her, it’s hard for me to share the things I know about her and her work now without getting weepy. Her work is sure to make a continual difference in our community and across the world.   

As of Friday, $78,000 has been raised in support of A Way Home Kamloops and the work they do in our community. Participants in the event — including me — continue to fundraise until the campaign officially ends in February.

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