Al Breitkreuz is all about smashing stereotypes, especially those involving the region’s chronically homelessness population.
“The belief is often that homeless people are lazy, but the reality is that if you or I had the upbringing many of the homeless people here have had, we would be in exactly the same place,” reflects the manager of the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope Outreach and Family Services, noting childhood trauma, substance use related to that trauma and mental illness are the most common reasons people are on the street.
Whether it’s the misfortune of being born to a drug-addicted mother, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted adult, or bouncing around the foster care system, “I want the public to know, these are really, really broken people. They have likely never had a home. They may have had a roof over their head – a house – but not a home,” Breitkreuz says.
But while that understanding lets the Centre of Hope team approach their work from a place of compassion, they don’t promote the culture of victimization, Breitkreuz emphasizes. The fact that someone has been victimized in the past is not an excuse for continued substance abuse – key to their efforts to get clients into treatment, renew their faith or find housing. “Real change happens when blame shifting ends.”
A multi-faceted community organization, The Salvation Army – Centre of Hope offers shelter, meals, medical services and outreach working with the chronically homeless and those living in poverty.
“We have a great culture here and the work our team does is absolutely vital,” Breitkreuz says.
Shelter and outreach: Partially funded by BC Housing, Centre of Hope offers a low-barrier, pet-friendly, 26-bed shelter with men’s and women’s areas, and a private space if needed. Two outreach workers build connections on Abbotsford’s streets and in the shelter with the hope of transitioning clients into detox, work and stable housing. “Our case planners work with clients to connect them with various resources and with our nurse and community programming,” Breitkreuz says.
Family Services: Working with those living in poverty or at the brink of homelessness – perhaps at risk of losing housing due to financial or other issues, Family Services provides emergency funding to bridge some of those gaps where needed. Food hampers, and food, furniture and clothing vouchers are also available, Breitkreuz says, noting divorce is the No. 1 cause of poverty in Canada, with single parents left to pick up the pieces. Staff can help identify programs, submit government forms and help families get back on their feet.
Nursing: A third key component of Centre of Hope is its nursing program, with a full-time licensed practical nurse and part-time nurse practitioner. Established with Fraser Health, a walk-in clinic serving clients once a week with doctor on-site is an initiative unique to the centre.
Volunteers are always welcome in the kitchen and dining room and for community events – last year, an amazing 18,900 volunteer hours helped make a difference to those in need in Abbotsford. Learn more at centreofhope.net