Homelessness Here

Think about this: how would life change if you or your partner were injured or became ill and could no longer work? What would you do if the depression you were diagnosed with became unmanageable and you no longer had a doctor?  What would your life look like if you were a senior with no family and were experiencing dementia? Although the outcomes of such scenarios are unique to each of us, one thing is certain: aspects of our personal well-being will be challenged.

Our wellness encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Keeping well means looking after each of these at the same time. Sometimes, life throws curve balls that knock us off our feet and we find ourselves relying on other supports to help us through.

Not having resources to support our basic needs can lead to poverty and homelessness for short or a long periods of time. Declining or a sudden loss of wages, inefficient health care, increases in rent, and domestic violence are all contributing causes. Because of the  countless factors and scenarios that can lead to homelessness, it cannot be ‘fixed’ with one fell swoop.

So what is ‘homelessness’? The Canadian Homeless Research Network defines it as:

“[…] the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and distressing.”

Between 2002 and 2008, the unsheltered homeless population increased by nearly 120% in New Westminster. (“Sheltered” homeless are considered people who sleep at emergency and temporary shelters, or are staying with friends: “couch-surfing”. “Unsheltered” refers to people who sleep on the streets.) Starting in 2005, the City undertook a number of actions, including developing a Needs Assessment and Strategy, establishing the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition Society (NWHCS), hiring a Social Planner and partnering with BC Housing to develop 28 emergency shelter beds and 84 longer-term transitional and supported housing units, that were eventually occupied in 2009/10. Based on the homeless count in 2014, it would appear that the efforts of the City, BC Housing, and the NWHCS is making a difference. Between 2008 and 2011, there was a 43% reduction in unsheltered homelessness and by 2014, a further reduction of 17%.

The NWHCS is a collaborative effort. It brings together representatives of service providers, community-based organizations, and residents who want to support initiatives to fight homelessness in this city. The Coalition has created subcommittees to oversee initiatives such as Homelessness Action Week (HAW) events, and a community street-cleaning social initiative called, I’s On the Street.

A case manager at Union Gospel Mission notes; “I think there are various distances from couch surfing to the street. I believe the term ‘homeless’ can be used in a literal way and there is also a more broad way of using the term that covers various aspects of the experience of being homeless. Not having a fixed address can be quite a headache day in and day out. In a scenario where an individual has work and is working full time, he/she needs to drag every piece of belonging he/she owns to the place of employment. That is obviously going to raise some questions with employers, but the difficult thing is that there are not a lot of storage resources in areas that have a higher population of people who are homeless. Then there are issues like mail, communication, and other logistics that most people take for granted. I have not even brought up the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of not having a home to return to each night.”

homeless-11“From different accounts,” the case manager continues, “I often hear there is the feeling of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and powerlessness. It is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and difficult experiences anyone can go through in their lifetime.”

The case manager stresses that each individual and situation is unique. Each person must have their needs assessed individually and with respect.

“We should take the time out to walk alongside each person and his or her situation.”

In addition to the emergency shelters (two for men and two for women and children), New Westminster’s service providers focus on a wide spectrum of needs. Carole Neilson, a Deacon at Holy Trinity Cathedral and coordinator for their weekly community breakfast club shares; “I am impressed with the many services and programs available to the homeless and at-risk persons in New Westminster. The city, the community, and churches are working together to assist those in need.” Just a few of these services include:

  • Fraser Mental Health offers counselling and addiction programs
  • Canadian Mental Health Association supports youth and adults experiencing mental illness with various levels of housing
  • Family Services of Greater Vancouver has a range of counselling services, and works closely with the New West Police Domestic Violence Response Team and offers programs for newcomers and their families
  • The Purpose Society‘s Stride with Purpose team cares for those living with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C (including youth) through outreach and case-management, health workshops, clinics, and distributing harm-reduction supplies
  • UGM New Westminster Resource Centre serves community meals, offers client services (including free hearing tests, haircuts, and income tax assistance), programs, and resources
  • Along with their shelter, the Salvation Army has programs for children, adults and seniors, and provides community meals and distributes produce
  • Quest Food Exchange makes it possible for people struggling to access healthy, quality food  
  • The Seniors Services Society focuses on programming and housing for seniors  
  • The Lookout Emergency Aid Society aims at providing emergency and transitional housing
  • FraserWorks BC prepares and connects people to employment
  • Elizabeth Fry works with women in the judicial system and their families
  • The Westcoast Genesis Society offers transitional housing and programs for adult male federal offenders on conditional release  
  • The Spirit of The Children Society serves the Aboriginal community

This is not a complete list! There is an excellent interactive map called the Community Service Asset Map developed by the City of New Westminster that provides a very comprehensive list of low-cost and free community services and supports: www.newwestassetmap.ca

In addition to these social services, churches have stepped up by tirelessly preparing community meals. Other low cost and free community meals are available, too. In addition to meals, there are a few places where people can access free groceries—the Food Bank that operates from Shiloh Church on Wednesdays is one of them.  Breakfast and lunch is available on various days. 


Day Breakfast Lunch
Sunday The Redeemed Christian Church of God (third Sunday only) Salvation Army Church
Wednesday Queens Avenue United
Thursday Holy Trinity Cathedral St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Saturday Salvation Army Church

Bill Wong, who has managed the UGM New Westminster Resource Centre for 18 years, says; “There are many good things all of us can do to help the homeless including the most obvious that is to give to proven charities that focus on helping the less fortunate. People can also give toward immediate relief resources such as food, clothing and hygiene products.”

homeless-10Neilson believes giving financial support to organizations that help those in need is crucial to every outreach program; “it is my hope that the citizens of New Westminster will support outreach services in this city by learning about them. In this way, both the volunteer pool and financial aid will increase.”

So how can we help? Organizations are always looking for volunteers. Perhaps you have specific skills you want to use. Are you a professional hairdresser, an accountant, an attorney, a cook, a driver, or a retired teacher? There is a strong likelihood that your expertise can be used to help others. Buy tickets to fundraisers that support these initiatives. Donate, if you can.

The one thing, however, that makes the greatest impact is giving those around us—the woman who walks up and down the street talking to herself and the man who pushes a cart full of empty bottles—their personhood. We dehumanize and marginalize these people by making them feel they are a burden. By seeing past a person’s exterior, we can help them reclaim something that was taken. We are all so much more than a label. Steve (not his real name), said to me recently; “I know I look shabby on the outside, but I wish people could just see through to my heart and realize I am a good person and I’m fighting every day to go forward. It feels good when people look me straight in the eyes and call me by my name. It might seem like a small thing but it’s everything.”


Homelessness Action Week in New Westminster: October 10 – 14, 2016

Union Gospel Mission’s Community Thanksgiving Meal October 10th 12pm and 2pm at UGM New Westminster Resource Centre, 658 Clarkson Street

Connect Day at Holy Trinity Cathedral October 11th Free community breakfast, service providers “one stop shop”, and free clothing. Plus! A delicious meal prepared by the Sikh community. 541 Carnarvon St.

9th Annual Fundraiser Dinner and Silent Auction on October 13th Hosted by the NWHCS at the Columbia Theatre located at 530 Columbia St. Tickets: $75. For general enquiries and information about tickets, donating items for the silent auction, please contact Martha at 778-847-4468, admin@nwhomeless.ca


Meet Myke

IMG_9787It’s 1am. Most are asleep. Myke is walking the streets of New West and Burnaby filling his pockets* with used crack pipes, syringes and other pieces of drug paraphernalia. People have called the Police on him because he has been seen reaching through gates, foraging around dumpsters and dark corners picking up syringes. No matter how cold and wet it is, he goes out religiously to do his rounds cleaning up our streets.

For four to six hours, every single day, for the past five years, Myke has walked from Downtown New West to Queensborough Bridge, 20th Street to 10th Avenue to Edmonds and Kingsway to Canada Way, 6th and McBride to Braid Street Skytrain Station and Sapperton, cleaning up after a crowd most don’t want to see or don’t know what to do with. In a course of a week, he picks up an average of 500 pieces of used drug paraphernalia off alleys, around dumpsters, railway tracks, streets and our parks. His motivation isn’t driven by a pay cheque because he isn’t being paid to do this. He is driven by a personal sense of obligation to keep the community he lives in safe. He may not be able to stop people from using drugs but he can keep users safe from reusing supplies and the rest of the community out of harm’s way.

Myke is happy if he can play a small part in saving one person’s life from the heartache of furthering drug addiction. The heartache he knows all too well.

Myke has lived a privileged life. His father owned numerous logging companies throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. His mother was a high-end escort who worked at different hotels in Vancouver. Perhaps from the perspective of some, Myke was exposed to an atypical childhood but in his mind, this was the only life he knew and with innocence, he enjoyed it. Continue reading “Meet Myke”

Meet Roger

[Editor’s Note: the following post features the text from Desiderata, a poem written in 1927 by American writer Max Ehrmann. It’s received some fame by being recorded, used, or referenced by people such as Leonard Nimoy, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and The New Pornographers.]

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;  they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Roger was stuck at a train station in Paris, France. A freak blizzard hit that day in April, 1995 making it one of the coldest days of that year. It was close to midnight and he knew he just had to wait out the next eight hours for money to be wired to buy his ticket home. Roger had given his original ticket back to Canada to one of his models who needed to get home earlier. Being a modeling agent at times involved sacrifice. Continue reading “Meet Roger”

Meet Hannah

HannahHannah has been in jail, a lot. She knows the inmates and knows the “system” inside and out like the back of her hand. She has no fear talking to the men and women in correctional facilities; as a matter of fact, she enjoys it. Just ask the 336 inmates Hannah reached out to this past year. Continue reading “Meet Hannah”