An overnight campout held annually outdoors to raise money in a bid to end youth homelessness will be much more difficult this year as it continues without the woman and driving force of the event — Katherine McParland.
McParland, who died on Friday, Dec. 4, is being remembered by her peers as a “vibrant, energetic and remarkable young woman” who overcame adversity and fiercely advocated for youth.
“Her defining legacy is that we are all much more aware of the harm that’s caused by youth homelessness and the extent of it in this country,” said Louise Richards, president of the board of directors for A Way Home Kamloops, for which McParland was executive director.
On Monday morning, A Way Home Kamloops held a press conference following the death of McParland, who was in her early 30s. The cause of her death has not been released.
A vigil is being held in her honour on Monday and Tuesday at Kamloops Alliance Church, located at 200 Leigh Road in North Kamloops, at the north end of Overlanders Bridge.
Richards cited heartbreak — which has been repeated through many social media posts — over the loss of McParland. She said the board was informed of McParland’s death on Saturday night and met all day Sunday, advising staff and youth in A Way Home Kamloops programs of the news.
Richards said the board has no information about the cause of McParland’s death.
“We cannot express the depth of the loss to the community and to the A Way Home Kamloops organization,” Richards said. “Katherine lived her work, created new pathways to end youth homelessness and inspired many others to join her in this critical work.”
Richards said McParland overcame challenges to complete a masters of social work and achieved much for her age, including starting the non-profit A Way Home Kamloops agency, co-founding the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, sitting on a federal advisory committee dealing with youth homelessness and advocating for systemic change to improve conditions for youth in foster care.
McParland herself spent much of her teenage years in foster homes and, once she aged out of the system at 19, was homeless in Kamloops for a period of time.
She told her story often, talking about how she would sleep outdoors and couch surf at the homes of friends. In her presentations, McParland would describe foster care as the “superhighway to homelessness,” noting kids run away when foster homes do not meet their needs.
When she turned 19 and aged out of foster care, McParland joined foster siblings on the street and described being abused. McParland eventually secured housing and enrolled at Thompson Rivers University, obtaining her social work degree in 2016.
Richards said A Way Home Kamloops will continue McParland’s work. Asked about leadership succession planning, she said discussions are being held regarding an interim executive director. Letting staff, youth and the community know of McParland’s death were the first steps, she said.
“Katherine was a compassionate fighter, never shying away from the tough issues that impacted her community,” said Attorney General David Eby, who is also the minister responsible for housing. “She drew on her own lived experiences, as a child who grew up in the foster care system and experienced extensive periods of homelessness, in serving as a commissioner on BC Housing’s board. Her knowledge was invaluable in supporting our work to address homelessness while supporting people.”
Cassie Doyle, board chair of BC Housing, where McParland served on the board of commissioners, called McParland a “transformative force.”
“Katherine radiated positivity,” Doyle said. “She was courageous in giving a voice to those often systematically excluded and in pushing for the meaningful inclusion of youth with lived experience in decisions that affected them.”
An annual overnight campout to raise funds and provide community members with the experience of sleeping outside on the streets of Kamloops is planned for Dec. 11 and will proceed. Richards said Katherine was a woman of action and would have wanted the event to continue.
Richards said youth involved in A Way Home Kamloops programs are feeling a sense of loss, but community partners have come forward to offer counselling for both youth and staff, which will be utilized. She encouraged donations to A Way Home Kamloops, which is online at awayhomekamloops.com.
A two-day vigil is being held for McParland from noon to 8 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Kamloops Alliance Church. A Way Home Kamloops board vice-president Traci Anderson said the church will be adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.
A friend of McParland’s is also organizing a walk in memory on Victoria Street on Dec. 16.