It was a slushy January afternoon when a small group of 14 community-minded individuals gathered at United Way to embark on a journey from emergency shelter to long-term housing. At 1:00 pm, we were greeted by our fearless leader Sarah, Community Campaign Manager at the United Way, who kindly offered us coffee and cookies to bring along on our adventure. Having grabbed our treats and name tags, we loaded onto the People in Motion bus and headed to our first stop, Canadian Mental Health Association’s Emerald Centre.
As an emergency shelter, Emerald Centre is often the first point of contact for people who have lost their housing. The agency provides 42 low-barrier beds divided between two sections: a male side and a female side. Our gracious hosts Erica, Alfred and Shelly spoke of the importance of providing services in a non-judgemental and respectful manner. For example, each client is provided with the option of utilizing case management services that can connect them to wraparound supports in the community. Finally, we had an opportunity to go upstairs and learn about a project called STLR (Supportive Transitional Living in Recovery) that is jointly operated by CMHA and the Phoenix Centre. Here, individuals in recovery are provided with a communal living arrangement and daily programming during a 6-month stay. Saying our goodbyes to our helpful facilitators, we hopped back on the bus and made the short trip to the New Life Community.
We stumbled upon our hosts Reagan and Stan by chance at the back door of New Life Community and made our way through the kitchen and great room where we had a chance to observe a thriving community fueled by warm food. From there, our hosts took us to the reception area where we learned about the New Life Community’s unique dentistry program. We then moved on to the Chapel Room – a prayer room that doubles as overflow for the extra beds brought in for cold winter nights. Reagan and Stan are veterans at the New Life Community and shared with us stories of the vibrant community they have helped build. After a few questions from our group we jumped back on the bus and headed to the Panorama Inn to learn about options for temporary and transitional housing.
The Panorama Inn and ASK Wellness have embarked on a unique public/private partnership that enables ASK Wellness to rent 30 suites from the Inn and provide temporary or transitional housing to their clients for a minimal cost. Bob and Ricky from ASK Wellness gave us a tour of a room and answered our questions about how such a partnership had evolved and the implications it has for their future work. Ricky spoke at length of the beneficial impact that safe transitional housing has for their clients as it gives them a chance to get back on their feet. Finally, Sarah corralled the group and whisked us onto the bus so we could get to our last stop, Elizabeth Fry Society’s housing program.
At Elizabeth Court, Jaqueline and Janet from Elizabeth Fry told us about their rental suites that offer clients a safe long-term solution to homelessness. The building is owned by Elizabeth Fry and is subsidized so that their clients can rent a suite based on their income. Additionally, Janet shared with us some information about the Rent Bank – a successful initiative that loans applicants the money they need to pay their rent in emergency situations. Having reached our last stop on the journey from emergency shelter to long-term housing, our group hopped in the bus and made our way back to the United Way.
Two themes were omnipresent for the duration of the Seeing is Believing Tour. The first was an ever-looming deadline of March 31st, 2017. For the non-profit community, this deadline is significant in two ways: firstly, it represents the date that their funding is renewed (or not) and secondly, it signifies the end of the Winter Surge Program in Kamloops. After March 31st, there is a very real possibility that the people who have been housed through the winter may not have access to safe housing.
The second overarching theme was the incredible collaboration that occurs within and across the social service sector in Kamloops. Each host agency spoke of the importance of their partnerships with other organizations and concluded that they would have trouble running their programs without their support. In a sector often overrun with individuality and competition, non-profits in Kamloops provide a shining example of collaboration. As a social work student, the Seeing is Believing Tour was an amazing opportunity for me to witness the strength and unity that come from a supportive, cooperative and creative non-profit community.
Working with United Way as a fourth-year practicum student, Kaitlyn O’Toole had the opportunity to experience the “Housing Matters” Seeing is Believing Tour on January 17. Kaitlin is passionate about anti-oppressive, action-oriented and community-driven research initiatives that empower and inspire others.
Seeing is Believing Tours offer donors, volunteers and community members an opportunity to see first-hand where United Way’s money goes to work in the community. Participants are able to visit community agencies and hear directly from agency staff and clients about the difference United Way and community partners can make in the lives of individuals in our community. CLICK HERE to join us on a Seeing is Believing Tour!