A little help goes a long way: RRU student gets grant to fuel justice studies
Some children dream of growing up and being artists or astronauts, farmers or famous singers. Since she was little, Alex Johnstone wanted to be a lawyer.
“I just remember not really understanding injustice when I was a kid, getting really upset and angry that equity wasn’t being honoured, whether it was at school or when I’d see people in my day-to-day life. Still, now, that stuff gets me quite angry,” says Johnstone.
That’s why the Penticton, BC resident is in Royal Roads University’s Master of Arts in Justice Studies program and why she’s doing a work placement with the Poverty Law Program at the
Penticton and Area Access Centre.
With funding from an RBC Community Integrated Learning Grant, Johnstone, who has a background in disability advocacy as well as an undergraduate background in physics and political science, works with low-income individuals to navigate social systems, from government benefits to tenancy issues. The latter are a critical part of her work with the Access Centre and involve tenants who face bad-faith evictions or other tenancy disputes.
“Keeping folks housed is always going to be a challenge,” she says, “especially in a place like the Okanagan, where a lot of folks have vacation homes and Airbnbs and such. It can be really tough on local low-income populations to find somewhere to live.”
Keleah Strack, a legal advocate with the Access Centre, says: “With Alexandria’s help we are able to assist more folks who would otherwise be referred elsewhere or waitlisted. In addition, she helped with research such as an in-depth look into the housing crisis in our catchment area.
“As advocates, we are meeting immediate needs but do not have time to look at more long-term solutions,” Strack added. “Alex has helped us to reach out to Okanagan College to establish a future drop-in and education workshop for tenants. The program she has established with the college is going to help us reach more folks and give people the knowledge and tools to demand their housing rights be upheld.”
Johnstone, who is scheduled to complete her master’s in spring 2024, plans to apply to law school with the aim of practising human rights law. She says her volunteer background and her previous work in hospitals fuel her passion for helping, which came in handy during the recent wildfires in the Okanagan that forced people out of their homes. She worked with the City of Penticton at the trade and convention centre, checking in evacuees from the region and connecting people with shelter and other resources.
She’s thankful she was able to do that while interning at the Access Centre and grateful for the funding that made that happen, saying, “The RBC grant made it possible for me to live while doing this internship because housing prices are insane. And it’s easier to combat burnout when you’re not, yourself, worrying how you’re going to survive to your next paycheque.”
Johnstone is also appreciative of her time at Royal Roads, noting the importance of the cohort. “Everybody in my cohort contributes something really important and really beautiful, and I think if I didn’t have the folks with me that I do, it wouldn’t be the same experience.”
Through the generosity of the Royal Bank of Canada Foundation, RBC Community Integrated Learning Grants provide funding to students who are completing a career learning and development work term in the community with a small business, non-profit or charitable organization that could not otherwise provide wages or compensation.