Harvey Clause has big ideas about helping the local homeless community. He wants to see another tent city – this time with more structure – to bring the community together. Clause sees the community as stronger when united. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

A Way Home

A WAY HOME: How to take action

We asked service providers how you can help Abbotsford’s homeless population

A Way Home - How to help. Photo illustration.
Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

It’s the giving season, and as we roll out our series on Abbotsford’s homeless population, Finding A Way Home, some people may be wondering: How can I help?

We’ve asked some local service providers why they do what they do and how the general population can help. This article will be updated as the series continues, featuring different individuals working on the front lines.

Here’s how you can take action:

How to help: Amanda Bonella.

Name: Amanda Bonella

Name of your organization and/or program: Drug War Survivors Abbotsford

What’s your role with Abbotsford’s homeless population?

I facilitate multiple meetings and support a membership of homeless and/or drug using of more than 120 people.

What do you love about your work?

I love the personal connections and watching others find their voice and advocate for their needs and rights. I like the simplicity of handing a member a sandwich and the complexity of mentoring peers to manage their resources, from forecasting budgets and writing to proposals to developing and evaluating their own programs.

What’s the best way people can help out?

We need volunteers and fundraisers, as this is a very difficult group to fund. However they are more efficient with their resources than most services they access. Additionally, we need work opportunities, mentors, computers, cell phones (for safety and work) and people with ideas and passion to help connect our members with others in their community who are compassionate as so many of their experiences with residents are cruel and stigmatic.

More information can be found on the Drug War Survivors website.

How to help: Les Talvio.

Name: Les Talvio

Name of your organization and/or program: Cyrus Centre

What’s your role with Abbotsford’s homeless population?

As Executive Director of Cyrus Centre I oversee the operations of our two emergency youth housing programs as well as our temporary youth shelters and the 2nd stage housing for guys. Additionally, I am Abbotsford Extreme Weather Coordinator initiating the activation of extreme weather openings and liaising with community partners including BC Housing and the City of Abbotsford.

What do you love about your work?

Definitely it is working with a group of dedicated volunteers and staff who want to lend a hand up and make a difference. When a youth has a safe place to sleep, eat, shower with no strings attached in a safe caring environment what a difference it makes for the youth knowing that they’re not having to give of themselves to receive services. Services such as shelter, meals, life skills training, advocacy, referrals and more.

What’s the best way people can help out?

Firstly To understand each and every one of these youth has a story, a story that makes them unique from the next one. Volunteering, donations, helping their friends and neighbors realize that these youth quite often are one caring adult away from succeeding.

You can donate to or pick up a volunteer application from the Cyrus Centre at 2616 Ware Street, Abbotsford.

How to help: Kevin McArthur.

Name: Kevin McArthur

Name of your organization and/or program:

Riverside Shelter operated by Lookout Housing and Health Society

What’s your role with Abbotsford’s homeless population?

I am the manager of the Riverside Shelter. The shelter has 40 beds, 12 for women and 28 men who need a safe, warm place to be. Like all Lookout shelters, we provide low-barrier services, meaning that everyone is welcome. We meet people where they are at, and help them get to where they want to be. In addition to meals, showers, and laundry, our dedicated staff assist guests to connect with housing, income sources, health services, and community resources during their short-term stays. By working closely with the City of Abbotsford, BC Housing, Fraser Health, and other local service providers, we are able to help people build stability in their lives.

What do you love about your work?

In a word, I love to provide dignity. Every person should be afforded the opportunity to belong. Providing services to vulnerable adults who have little or no housing options gives them hope. Men and woman accessing Lookout resources are often stigmatized and have experienced trauma. By providing a hot meal and warm bed, we are able to help them build a sense of connection and belonging.

What’s the best way people can help out?

There are a number of ways people can help – donations and volunteers are always welcome.

w Donations of new items such as jackets, boots, clothing, blankets, towels, socks, underwear and personal care items are always needed. The shelter is open 24/7. Items can be dropped off at 1640 Riverside Rd. Cash donations can be made online at lookoutsociety.ca

w Volunteering: There are many opportunities, from helping with meals to sorting donations to teaching someone to use a computer. Apply to be a Lookout volunteer at lookoutsociety.ca/get-involved/volunteer/

How to help: Al Breitkreuz.

Name:

Al Breitkreuz

Name of your organization and/or program:

The Salvation Army Centre of Hope

What’s your role with Abbotsford’s homeless population?

I am the Program Manager at The Centre of Hope where I oversee our Shelter, Outreach Program, Family Services and Nursing program. While these programs vary in their functions they all coalesce with the ultimate goal of providing holistic care to the poor, vulnerable and marginalized in our city. This integrated care includes preparation for housing, medical care as well emotional and spiritual support. We have a 25 bed shelter with the capacity to increase to 45 on extreme weather nights. We work closely with the guests in the shelter in an effort to address their housing needs. Our outreach team works in the community attending to the needs of the homeless in order to find housing for them. Through Outreach and Family Services programs we provide rental supplements and crisis grants in order to sustain housing for those who are housed but on the cusp of homelessness. Our Medical team provides medical care rounding out our integrated strategy to address the needs of the poor and homeless in our community.

What do you love about your work?

I enjoy the opportunity to offer and provide hope to people who have been broken by life and have come to a place where they feel all hope is lost. The challenge in addressing the systemic complexity of the homeless condition is what motivates me to apply principles of justice to bear on the homeless issue in the lower mainland. This means helping people at their most vulnerable place and being a catalyst to their healing. The most satisfying aspect of this work is when we see people not only find housing but come to a place where they discover peace and contentment in spite of all that they have been through.

What’s the best way people can help out?

Giving of time to volunteer year-round or seasonally – serving coffee and meals, sorting clothes and books, emergency services, and fundraising, van drivers to store clerks, from produce sorters to dishwashers, from drop-in centre workers to emergency services responders and kettle bell ringers.

Generously donating to the kettle campaign

Host a fundraising event

Donations of goods to the Thrift Store – all of the proceeds go to supporting the programs and services at the Centre of Hope.

Donations of food – perishable and non-perishable that can be used both in the meal centre and in the emergency food bank hampers that we give out daily.

Sponsoring various events and programs – such as the Thanksgiving and Christmas luncheons, Kids to Camp Sunrise in the summer, Pantry 34’s nutritious snacks in schools.

More information is available by visiting the Centre of Hope website.

How to help: Megan Capp.

Name: Megan Capp

Name of your organization and/or program: Hearthstone Place, Abbotsford Community Services

What’s your role with Abbotsford’s homeless population?

I manage Hearthstone Place which is a partnership project between Abbotsford Community Services, BC Housing and the City of Abbotsford. Hearthstone Place provides low barrier supportive housing for 30 individuals (20 men and 10 women) who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.

What do you love about your work?

What I appreciate the most about my work is witnessing the sense of community that our residents create for one another. It is encouraging and uplifting to see the way that they care for and support each other. I am grateful when I see the tremendous impact that housing can have on an individual’s circumstance. I am particularly moved seeing the shift in a resident when they realize that they are in a safe space and can begin working on improving their life in various ways. In the larger context, I am passionate about working hard to achieve Abbotsford Community Services’ vision of: justice, opportunities, and equitable access for all. What fulfills me is being able to break down barriers by demonstrating that supportive housing is effective and leads to positive improvements at both the individual and societal levels.

What’s the best way people can help out?

I would encourage people to reflect on their own judgements and biases around those who are experiencing homelessness. In my opinion, the best way to positively address this social issue is to break down social stigma and the “us versus them” mentality that many of us hold. To do this, I would recommend that people stay informed on the issues and commit to increased dialogue and communication – including directly with those who are homeless. It could start with something as simple as making eye contact and saying “hello” to someone! There are also a wealth of organizations and individuals in our community which provide support to this population. If you would like to help out in a more tangible way I would recommend connecting with them and asking what the needs of their organization are.

If you would like to donate to Hearthstone specifically, we would be very grateful for some art and/or music supplies. There is a lot of talent within our building and we would appreciate support in expressing it.

Those wishing to donate can contact Megan at megan.capp@abbotsfordcommunityservices.com

***

Name: Jesse Wegenast

How to help: Jesse Wegenast.

Name of your organization and/or program: The 5 and 2 Ministries

What’s your role with Abbotsford’s homeless population?

I’m a pastor, which leads to various roles depending on the season of the year season of life.

What do you love about your work?

Simply put, it is a joy to serve the Lord. It’s not always easy and it’s not always fun, and sometimes you don’t get much sleep, but it is a joy and privilege to serve. Being with vulnerable people, being friends with vulnerable people, exposes you to your own vulnerabilities and need to be loved. Often times I’m with a friend whose struggles are well beyond my ability to address. At that point I must accept the uncomfortable truth all I can offer is nearness and friendship; the same things that are being offered to me. Service isn’t about fixing a problem, it’s about softening a heart.

What’s the best way people can help out?

The best way for people to help out is to practice seeing all the people around them who are leaning out for love, and to respond in whatever ways that they can. While acts of mercy such as providing food and clothing are necessary survival interventions for many, what will be remembered years down the road are the tender words you share, the encouragement you give, the touch on the arm. Many people who are homeless have lived lives of exclusion: exclusion from family, exclusion in school, exclusion from society. Help by bringing people back from exclusion to inclusion.

You can also help by contributing to the 5 and 2 Ministries Meal Train.

Finding a way home
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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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