The warmer weather has resulted in a slow start for Trail’s homeless shelter but last year’s good work could also be why numbers are low.
Only three people have used the La Nina Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter since it opened earlier this month and though initial start up is always quiet, the organization that manages the facility in the United Church also attributes the low volume to a success story.
“When I look back over the last few years, people who have historically been using the shelter have been housed and they’re still maintaining their housing,” said Sheila Adcock of Career Development Services (CDS).
Taking over the management side of the shelter this year was a natural progression for CDS, the organization that helps individuals with barriers, as it already ran a Getting to Home initiative with the help of the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre.
With one-time-only federal Homelessness Partnership Strategy (HPS) funding, the two organizations were successful in helping 60 adults and 16 dependent children secure housing last year, many of which used the shelter while in transition.
The Getting to Home pilot project offered funding to pay off any outstanding bills these individuals were carrying, but also helped pay for up to $200 of start-up groceries. The project employed support workers who helped secure housing by working with landlords to ensure their needs were met.
A simplified project still exists now but relies on funding from the community. The reduction in finances to support individuals means moving away from two half-time support workers sharing 40 hours a week to an individual clocking four to six hours per week.
“With the initial contract, the Getting to Home funding, we kind of figured we’d support up to 28 people within the timeline that we had,” she said. “But we ended up with (nearly) 80 so I mean the numbers were a lot higher than we anticipated.”
The CDS never shied away from helping clients, even if it meant Adcock doing extra work off the side of her desk.
Fifty-year-old Wayne Kamemtzky moved back to Trail from Vernon at the end of April. Adcock managed to line up an apartment for him, where he could keep his cat, too.
“I pay a little bit more rent because it’s better that way so you don’t get caught in the crack houses … nobody wants to live there,” he said Thursday.
The former drug user left his life in Trail when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to move closer to a larger centre to access health care. He has now fought the disease and is sober.
Upon return, CDS not only filled his cupboards with food but offered him his old job back as office cleaner for $100 a month. The extra cash tops up his disability cheque and as a result his life is worry free.
“Put it this way, Sheila does a lot more work here than mental health does,” he said. “That’s pretty sad, if you think about it.
“I wish some how we could have a surprise party for a thank you to Sheila.”
Work around homelessness has been a real eye-opener for Adcock. When she sat down with those who had no place to go, she learned that it was often just a little financial assistance or administrative help that got them out of a rut and into a home.
“We have people that would come in and say, ‘You know, I’m homeless again. I’ve rented six places in the past year,’” she explained. “It wasn’t due to their own behaviours but their inability to manage their own life — get the rent payed and pay utilities.”
She found that with a little assistance, the obstacles were removed and these once-struggling individuals were settling nicely into a permanent home.
CDS works with owners of rental properties both to improve the availability of safe housing and to assist landlords concerned about renting to vulnerable tenants. At times, CDS staff have had to roll up their sleeves and clean spaces that were left unkept by their clients (due to unforeseen circumstances). But the work is well worth it, said Adcock, if it means keeping a good relationship with local landlords now willing to offer housing to those struggling so long as the organization acts as a facilitator.
In Trail, the homeless are not the ones sleeping in gutters or doorways. Their stories are not as apparent as what you’ll find in East Vancouver, said Adcock.
They’re the people who’ve been evicted and are couch surfing and in the meantime find themselves in vulnerable and dangerous situations. They’re the ones with nowhere to go when their landlord gives them the boot because they can’t pay their bills, the ones that leave their home with nothing because there is nowhere to store their belongings in the meantime.
“It (the pilot project) was a wake up call for what does the face of homelessness in Trail look like and what do those individuals have to deal with,” she said.
Though support is growing in the community from an emergency shelter to the Getting to Home initiative, Adcock said there is still room for a change in attitude.
“I actually had one guy say to me, ‘Don’t build such a good program because those people will just move here,’ but these people are already here and they’re your cousin, your mother, your sister,” she said. “It’s not those people, we’re trying to say that they’re are people.
“This is our community and we need to support them.”
Behind closed doors, there are still people like Adcock looking for funding opportunities to expand on these services in Trail. Her hope is that one day the city will have a large facility to house not only the shelter but its support workers, a service centre that would provide all outreach information available in Trail in a community setting that would offer a welcoming hub and place to call home.
The La Nina Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter is open in United Church on Pine Avenue until the end of March during the hours of 9 p.m. until 8 a.m. But now that BC Housing has granted the Trail shelter half its previously ($50,000 last year) secured funding, the two employees that man the warm quarters will lock it up if no one shows up by 1 a.m.
The West Kootenay Brain Injury Association clubhouse offers up a warm shower to shelter users and Kate’s Kitchen provides a free meal at their facility in the Gulch as well as soup on site for those hungry late-night arrivers.