Feature Story                                                                                             Tuesday, January 20, 2015

 

Increasing Their Capacity to Help

Ruth and Naomi's announces new addition to reduce homelessness in Chilliwack

Staff Voice photos

 

Chilliwack MLA John Martin (L to R), Rotary Club President Gary Armstrong and Ruth and Naomi's Executive Director Bill Radditz hold an oversized cheque in the amount of $73,000 last week.

 

uth and Naomi's Mission was bustling on Wednesday. Outside the shelter, workers were building forms and pouring concrete on the new annex. Inside, Steve was filling and stacking coffee filters for the day.

 

It was also the day the Mission was announcing that Chilliwack Fraser Rotary Club made a $73,000 donation towards an expansion project that would enclose an outdoor smoking vestibule and allow for the addition of a pair of offices and bunk beds for 12 to the 15 mat spaces they already have.

 

The Margaret Ave. Mission, whose logo is; "Our People, Our Community, Our Opportunity" opened in February 2012 with a mandate to help reduce homelessness and help those at-risk of being homeless.

 

In the two years that that the Mission has been operational, it’s become very popular within the subset of homeless in the community who see it as a non-judgmental place to put their lives back together from scratch.

 

To them, Ruth and Naomi's has been more than just a warm meal and a safe place to sleep. It’s a place where they can build trust and form the relationships needed in order to get help for things like addiction.

 

Back in 2012, the Mission had 8 people in their “Step-Up Program.” Fast forward two years, and the facility has double that with 16 sleeping on mattresses strewn on the floor.

 

During the cheque presentation, Mission executive director Bill Radditz gave reasons for the expansion project.

 

"We're looking at an expansion program with the homeless people. But right now at Ruth and Naomi's we have 15 people who sleep on a mattress every night and we store all the material relating to that, mattresses, pillows and what have you in a washroom. We have my director who looks after that, Peter, his office is in a washroom too, so we have two washrooms that need to be used for their purpose but are not."

 

 

Radditz said Chilliwack Fraser Rotary became involved after he wrote a letter to them describing their plan to provide additional accommodation for up to 12 men and 4 women, calling it a more efficient use of space.

 

In response to Radditz’s request, the Rotary came up with the huge $73,000 donation.

 

"We are thankful and grateful that the Rotary Club has helped us with that. We want to thank the Club for coming here and the $73,000 cheque will cover the vast majority of the project that we're all so excited about," said Radditz adding that he had gone to the city with his hat in hand. "They're looking at it and trying to help us out.” 

 

Club President, Gary Armstrong, said his group is one of three commonly referred to as the "Wednesday Club."

 

"We're made up of professionals, business owners and community leaders who are dedicated in giving back to our community," he told those gathered outside the Mission. "We've taken on projects in the past such as the Chilliwack Hospice, the Sardis Children's Centre and the Pediatric Ward at Chilliwack General Hospital and a variety of other projects."

 

"We're quite excited and proud to partner with Ruth and Naomi's to be able to met an unmet need in the community for the homeless. We're very excited about it and we're glad to see that it's moving along very quickly."

 

Later, he told The Voice his club raised the money over the years in a variety of ways through things like their annual Spring Dance, and travel lotteries.

 

"We know Ruth & Naomi's. We've associated with them for a number of years and we know the good work that they've done, and we were looking in particular at giving a donation that will help out the homeless in Chilliwack," said Armstrong.

 

Chilliwack MLA John Martin was in attendance and he told The Voice that the Mission is one of the most successful projects of its type.

 

"I don't know that it could have happened in any other community than Chilliwack,” said Martin. “The pulling together that level of partnership, and network and the people working for the greater good, to pick up as much of the slack as they can, and help those that can't necessarily help themselves to this point in their lives. The whole community can be proud of this accomplishment and this day has just been another part of this legacy. We've got Rotary stepping up providing funding for a service that is needed," he said.

 

On Monday, the federal government announced that the Greater Vancouver Regional District received an investment of over $1.2 million from the federal government's Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) for the development of the YWCA "Cause We Care House" project. Overall, they are receiving more than $41 million in funding over five years (2014–19) to implement Housing First, a proven, evidence-based approach to end homelessness.

 

Housing First is the cornerstone of the Government's renewed HPS. It aims to stabilize the lives of homeless individuals for the long term by first moving them into permanent housing and then providing additional support for underlying issues, such as addiction and mental health. The end goal is ensuring these individuals become self‑sufficient, fully participating members of society."

 

Workers pour concrete for the new addition on Wednesday.

 

It's unclear if Radditz has involved Ruth & Naomi's in the Homeless Partnering Strategy, said to be a unique community-based program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness by providing direct support and funding to 61 designated communities in all provinces and territories, as well as to Aboriginal, rural and remote areas across Canada, and help them address the problem.

 

But the biggest challenge that Radditz and his staff face, is that without stable housing, it's much more difficult to get their clients to participate in treatment programs and manage their mental and physical health issues. This adds to costs for emergency housing, hospitalization, shelters, prisons and various other crisis services.

 

Each community deals with their homeless in unique ways. For instance, in Toronto, Project Winter Survival for the Homeless handed out 3000 winter kits last Saturday through about 150 homeless shelters, social service agencies and outreach providers directly to those in need.

 

"While the threat of personal safety and well being by radical extremists continues to be a growing concern for citizens of the world, here at home those less fortunate must do battle with a volatile and unforgiving adversary responsible in the death of three homeless men. In response to a growing need for life saving necessities to help those less fortunate survive winter on the streets," said a Project Winter Survival spokesperson in a release last week.

 

But, there’s never really been a huge homeless problem in Chilliwack with its population of over 80,000. A recent count put the number at somewhere over 200 in the entire Upper Fraser Valley. Medicine Hat on the other hand with a population of 61,000 housed 1000 homeless individuals over a five year period. One-third of those were children. Their homeless program aims to get people from shelters into condos and apartments within 10 days.

 

Steve preps the day's coffee in the kitchen.

 

How do they do it?  They built a lot of town homes since they started their homeless program 5 years ago said Mayor Ted Clugston in a January 9 interview with CBC’s Michael Enright. Plus, the support agencies all work together.

 

“We're a large enough city, 61,000, to be able to have the resources to do these kinds of things, but we're also small enough that all of our service providers know each other. The food bank knows the mental health; the mental health knows the Community Housing Association and the Salvation Army," said Clugston.

 

The city donated land and resources to get the low-income homes built, and the province gave them some operational money.

 

According to Clugston, the cost is in the tens of millions and just because they’ve built some houses, the problem isn’t going to go away. The City will have to keep adding to their housing stock.

 

Reports are that in Utah it costs $20,000/yr to house someone, but in their Housing First program it costs only $8,000.

 

Bill Radditz (L to R), Gary Armstrong and Ruth and Naomi's staffer Brian Wierks. Below, Bill Radditz points to what he says is a well thought out plan.

 

Clugston says they use the same figures as Utah's, adding that the housing money is money well spent because when you factor in a situation where a homeless person on the street gets hypothermic and needs hospitalization, the costs skyrocket.

 

"It costs a $1000 just to walk in the door of the hospital, and as soon as they get a hospital bed, that's another $1000 a day," he said. "And so we figure we're saving $80,000 a year when you're treating an acute person."

 

In Seattle, the situation is much direr with 2000-3000 currently living on the streets. City council there saw a need for an infrastructure for the homeless and authorized the set-up of camps.

 

The camps are run by third party church groups and agencies, not by the city, and are regulated by the police through 9-1-1 calls. Some  have been operating for ten years. Until recently, these camps didn't really have any conditions or regulations governing them. There are no showers and no storage.

 

"We broke up the unmanaged camps on private property, and utilized public property to establish camps," said councillor Nick Licata in an interview last week.

 

Seattle council intends to authorize at least three more tent cities. Because there are so many people using them, their stays are limited to 1 year with a 5 -year sunset clause.

 

Should Chilliwack have a Portland Hotel?

 

Former Downtown Eastside Residents Association president Jim Green, set up the Portland because after Riverview closed there was a huge influx of people with mental health issues who were just wandering around on the street and subject to all types of nefarious crimes.

 

Another thing that may help is neighbourhood houses. There aren’t any in Chilliwack and these are great jumping-off points to services in other areas.

 

"In the fall, we started addressing the homeless issue because we knew the winter was coming on. They come in for the evening at 9 p.m., they register, they take showers, they go to bed. When they wake up in the morning, all their clothes are washed and they get a breakfast and then they're sent on their way," explained Radditz.

 

But this is where it becomes fuzzy as to what happens to the Mission clients. Where do they go at 7 a.m.? What do they do?

 

Some Chilliwack residents refer to the area from Ruth and Naomi's to the Health Contact Centre and the Salvation Army Care and Share Centre as the "Bermuda Triangle of Crime", an infamous area in Chilliwack where things go missing in abundance.

 

 

The following is a Q & A with Bill Radditz prior to the cheque presentation:

 

Q. Is the Mission contributing to crime downtown by having all these people with no home hanging around until dinner?

No.

 

Q. Do you think crime is an issue in this neighbourhood now?

I think when you say an issue, I think when you're in the downtown in any city, there's going to be a crime issue.

 

I think that since we've been here, so we've been told by the RCMP, that we've been up now two-and-a half or three years, that the crime rates and the petty crime has actually gone down. I can't say we're all the reason for it, because I think there are multiple reasons, we're just one of them. I think there is more police force downtown too and that adds to it too, which increases response time to crime.

 

I've never heard of that (Bermuda Triangle of Crime) from other people that come here. I'd say the vast majority of the people that come here are probably poorer or marginalized people. We have working poor. We get the addicts obviously because we have a recovery program.

 

Q. What do you do when somebody shows up drinking or intox looking to stay overnight?

That is assessed on an individual basis because some people are drunk and grumpy and mad, and there's others who are totally 'leave me alone," right? Those type we take in, but the ones that are obnoxious, let's say, we would phone the police.

 

Q. So sometimes they're too drunk for the police cells and the Salvation Army won't take them either.

Our policies are pretty well similar.

 

Q. Are you in competition with the Sally Ann?

No. As a matter of fact, yesterday we had a meeting with the RCMP and the Salvation Army.

 

Q. So do you guys all work together on common ground?

Oh yeah, there's a lot of common ground. They have a program called Riverside that deals with addiction and that's a day program 7-24. Some of their guys go to their program and then come here for our evening program.

 

Q. You liaise and you want to know who the troublemakers are?

Oh yeah, so we talk, all the time and that great relationship has only started in the last 18 months or so.

 

Q. Do you find that you're getting a lot of Vancouver people out here? Are you being swarmed?

No. We've got a couple, but they are from the east. A lot of them come from the east.

 

Q. This is kind of like the land of plenty. In the Downtown Eastside there's no reason for them to have money the day after welfare day because there's so many services down there. You don't feel that you're a redundant service here in Chilliwack?

No. Are you kidding?

 

Q. There's enough homeless to keep you going?

Yeah. Yeah. I'll give you an example of that. So, from a statistic point of view is, when we built this place, for the first year we were averaging 8 people a night. Now, we're averaging 14.

 

Q. What's your capacity?

Our capacity is 15.

 

Q. So you're right on the cusp.

Yes.

 

Q. So the new building, that's going to help?

What we're doing is that we have a mat program. We're not building individual rooms. We're building a common room that will have 12 beds (bunks).

 

Q. That means you'll have 27 people?

What we're going to do is we're limiting our mat program. We give them clean fresh pajamas. (A washing machine goes all the time overnight) They get up and have a shower. Then in the morning when they get up, their laundry is done. They get fresh clothes, they get a breakfast and then they go. You don't get treated like that I bet.

 

Q. Do you have some kind of job strategy or placement or anything like that?

With this new program that we're looking at implementing once it's built, is that we're going to eliminate the mattress program, and we're going to allow them to stay up to 30 days. In that 30-day period, we will be giving targets to do. Some very small menial jobs.

 

Like if they don't have ID. You'd be surprised at how many don't have ID so we try to get their ID for them. Most run to Money Mart.

 

Q. Where do they go during the day time?

So what we're trying to do is to get them to do that for 30 days then those that have addictions, come into our addiction program. Then when they're in that program, we work with different employers throughout the community who will work with them, bring them on board and bring them back.

 

Our target is to get them back in society. So there are different levels that we have within our "Step-Up Program" and our addiction-recovery program. So the longer they're in, the better off they are.

 

The Step-up Program is a 30-day entry level and we have one 20 days and then up to two years. Then we work with the Chilliwack Homeless Foundation that provides us condos. By the time they go in there, they're going to college or they have a permanent job and you're in there for 6-months to a year then they go out on their own.

 

Q. So I assume you can steer them into post secondary education opportunities. Is there anybody in Chilliwack that would hire these guys? Like do they come to you and say 'I need six guys to work today' or whatever?

We've had that, but there's very few who are willing to do that and we don't like doing that. Because the problem is with addiction, is that if they've money, they're tempted. So you don't want them to have money, until they can control money, which means they're starting to control their addiction.

 

Q. Downtown Eastside has an agency called the St. James Society, and they issue these daily stipends to people that can't manage their money. Do you do that?

No. We don't do that here. Part of the problem ... we allow them to earn money here. Like when you have a couple of guys helping with a job, and they get paid minimum wage, We know how much we give them so we control how much we give them. For instance, if they make $80, we may only give them $30 this week, and $30 next.

 

What we try to do is teach them to manage their money, not blow their money. So if you give them too much, it's like people who win the lottery and two years later they've got no money.

 

So we try to work with them through that. Money management is part of it.

 

Q. What is your success rate?

Depends how you measure that. For the average person to succeed, they go through a recovery home seven times.

 

Q. It's almost like quitting smoking.

It's no different. Smoking is an addiction. So, most are 7 times, so we're part of that but in terms of the few that come here we're probably at a 40-50 per cent success rate. To us, success is measured by the program.

 

I feel anybody that stays here one day, is one day better. The reason for it is because if they're here and they've been homeless and robbing and stealing, and they're here for one day, there's one day they're not doing that.

 

 

Links 

For more information about the services that Ruth and Naomi's provide, visit www.ranmission.ca

 

For more information on homelessness programs in Toronto and elsewhere visit www.engageandchange.org 

 

Connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RuthandNaomis

 

The Mission is located at 46130 Margaret Ave, Chilliwack, BC V2P 2G5  604 795 2322

 

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