Feature Story Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Desperately Seeking Shelter
Ruth and Naomi's Mission set to offer transitional housing to women for the first time
Chilliwack Liberal candidates Laurie Throness (L), and John Martin flank Premier Christy Clark and Wayne Massey at Ruth and Naomi's last Thursday.
ontrary to what some believe, the face of homelessness in Chilliwack isn’t exclusively male. According to the 2011 Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) Homelessness Survey, there were 345 homeless people, of which 45 per cent were women.
A total of 111 homeless were counted in Chilliwack, which means that just over 50 of those were women of no fixed address.
Without options like “second-stage” beds, women on the street face a stark reality of going from floor mat to floor mat in a world laced with drugs, alcohol and prostitution. They are the forsaken ones. Vagabonds, drifting aimlessly on the outskirts of a society that hasn't been able to offer much help.
Due to a lack of funding, these women are hard-pressed to find transitional housing with access to life-altering resources like the 24-month Step-Up Program, offered at Ruth and Naomi's Mission.
Breaking from a long-standing tradition of helping only men, Mission executive director Bill Raddatz announced Thursday their facility will be expanding services to include 20 beds for women in transition.
Since word got out, the response has been overwhelming. To date, 68 applications have been made for the women’s residential program which is slated to begin by mid-February.
Executive director Bill Raddatz told a small crowd of about 40 people at the Mission, including Premier Christy Clark and Chilliwack Liberal candidates Laurie Throness and John Martin, that when called upon, the community has come through in big ways.
“When issues come up here at the Mission, we make some phone calls and things got done,” he said.
Last year, when the Mission opened its doors, Raddatz said they were looking at programs for both genders, but didn’t know exactly what to do about helping homeless women in Chilliwack.
One option on the table was the old Mercer house in Rosedale which Tycrop wants gone to make room for staff parking.
Dr. John Gray explains about the transitional living units upstairs.
But the costs and logistics associated with moving the house proved to be inhibitive. So they went back to the drawing board. A short time later, a home located adjacent to the Mission on Margaret Ave. came up for sale, and the board of directors opted to buy that instead.
“We got the project going, and they went out at Christmas and were able to raise $110,000 combined with $40,000 from general funds to buy the home,” said Raddatz adding that "every dollar came from the community on that project."
Initially, the Mission's board of directors thought they would put women in the house, but later decided on moving the men there instead.
Executive director Wayne Massey addressed the crowd in the dinning room which is converted to a sleeping area at night, saying he felt the Mission, with its $900,000 annual budget, has truly come of age.
“We’re all grown-up,” declared Massey. “We're not just that little coffee shop drop-in centre, and we're not a food and mat kitchen refuge place any longer."
Massey specifically thanked the volunteers and donors for their help and also recognized the support they’ve gotten from the community.
“I want to acknowledge all the people of Chilliwack for taking ownership of this wonderful Mission and helping improve the quality of life for everyone here,” he said.
Last year on February 25, MLA John Les announced a hefty government contribution for their capital funding.
“If you were here, you would vividly remember how I literally had tears streaming down my face, tears of joy and appreciation as John handed me this cheque for $387,000,” said Massey adding that BC Housing and the provincial government contribute $25,000 monthly to the Step-Up Program.
Clark was the final speaker and she said the government is happy to back the Step-Up program.
“The citizens who support our government through your tax dollars want to know that in a society as wealthy as this, we do everything we can to support those of us in our community who are struggling, who might find themselves out of work, who may be struggling with addiction or mental illness and have had trouble finding a place,” she said.
Clark talked about how good it feels to help those less fortunate.
“The act of giving is one of the most profoundly important acts that we can make, and all of you who do that every day feel the goodness because you've felt how good it is to give and I can't tell you, on behalf of all the people of British Columbia, how proud and grateful we are for the work that you do to make our society so much better.”
Clark reiterated her support for Throness and Martin as candidates in the Chilliwack riding, saying she was confident as MLA’s they will do just as good a job advocating on behalf of the community as MLA John Les has.
While the announcement was taking place indoors, around back, a grader took down the garage structure to make room for renovations.
Raddatz told The Voice afterward, the plan is to renovate the home and build a carriage house over top of a garage. The carriage home will house the classroom element of the Step-Up Program and storage underneath. The refit will cost will be somewhere in the vicinity of $275,000.
He says there are plans to offer a haircut service, and they have a team of volunteer doctors and chiropractors lined up who will donate time to see clients in the evenings.
When it comes to mental health, Raddatz said the Mission isn’t equipped to deal those types of issues, so they'll be working closely with the new Health Contact Centre which is scheduled to open some time in May or early June.
“Our focus is that we want to dwell on rehabilitation,” he said. “The guys that we have upstairs now have been in the program for about 6 months, and they're doing very well. But they all came in downstairs to the emergency shelter first.”
“We try to get their confidence back. Get them out on jobs. Changing lives around, that's what it’s about.”
Ruth and Naomi’s Mission is located at 46130 Margaret Avenue, Chilliwack, BC 604-795-2322
For more information, visit www.ruthandnaomis.ca
See more photos below.
• Inspiring Social Responsibility - MP Strahl takes R&N's message to Ottawa - May 16, 2012
• The Need to Feed - Ruth and Naomi's Mission opens in Chilliwack - February 28, 2012
• Gimme Shelter - There are more foodless than homeless in Chilliwack - November 24, 2010
Toque Tuesday: A chance to help thousands of people without a home
Raising The Roof's annual National Toque Tuesday is on February 5. The goal: to raise funds and awareness in support of Canada's estimated 200,000-300,000 homeless adults, youth and children.
WHAT: National Toque Tuesday. Across Canada, thousands of volunteers will take to the streets, shopping malls and local transit hubs to sell $10 toques to commuters. 80% of net proceeds will support local community agency programs. The remainder will go towards Raising the Roof's work on long-term solutions to homelessness across Canada.
This year, toque purchasers in many communities will be treated to breakfast! Whether on-the-spot pancakes and sausages or a gift coupon for coffee and oatmeal at a local restaurant, it's another way to say "thanks" for the public's support.
WHO: Thousands of volunteers from community agencies, universities and high schools, faith communities, large and small businesses.
WHEN: Toque Tuesday, February 5. Times vary by community but generally include morning and afternoon commuter rush hours.
WHERE: High-traffic areas - streets, shopping malls and local transit hubs. More info will be posted and toques for sale within next few days at www.raisingtheroof.org.
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