Outdoor living can be great. Living on the streets — not so much.
If Dianne Woodhouse has anything to do with it, Richmond will soon have a place where those who need it have a place to come into from the cold.
“Over the last few years, we have recognized there is a huge gap in services for people with nowhere to go, other than McDonald’s, the library and other places where they may not be accepted, but they are none the less tolerated,” said Woodhouse, chair for the Drop-In Centre Action Group and member of the Richmond’s Homelessness Coalition (RHC.)
“Richmond really needs a drop-in centre, Vancouver has quite a few of them.
“This drop-in centre will provide people with a warm, safe, dry place to spend some time, where they will be respected and heard,” she added.
The centre is expected to open in October at its temporary site of St. Alban Anglican Church. It will be open four hours a day, initially.
“We have no cooking facilities, so we will start off with coffee (a huge draw) and snacks,” she added. “The vision includes much more, but we will start with small manageable steps. It will be staffed with a mix of experienced volunteers paired with those with not so much experience. We will be putting a training module and safety measures in place for volunteers before we open for our guests.”
Once the shelter is open, organizers will look to providing services such as laundry, employment assistance, helping people re-connect with their families “and anything else needed to help people get back to living a life they can maintain.
“They also need an address if they want to apply for a job, and with the drop-in centre they can use that address.”
According to the 2011 Homeless Count, Richmond has 49 homeless, said Seth Klein, a director at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
“Out of those, 34 are unsheltered and 15 are sheltered,” said Klein of the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness (RSCH) report. “That indicates to me that although Richmond’s homeless are few, the city lacks shelters and it has little to nothing in terms of services available to the homeless. The idea of a drop-in centre is probably a good one.”
However, Klein believes the bigger issue here is affordable housing, something that both federal and provincial governments have failed to provide.
“During a 20 year period during the seventies and nineties, 2,000 units of social housing were being built every year,” said Klein. “Contrast that with Campbell’s government, which built 580 units over a five year period... we are not keeping up with the demand.”
This week, Woodhouse, along with other concerned citizens from the Richmond Food Bank and community social services for the City of Richmond, were going to visit a number of drop-in centres in Vancouver to see first hand how they operate and what services they offer.
“The RHC is a grass-roots, community initiated planning table,” said Dena Kae Beno, affordable housing coordinator for the City of Richmond.
“The city is one of the many stakeholders involved in the RHC planning table. As part of this process, the city is providing staff resources and support to the action groups to research and address the RHC priorities. At this time, the Drop-In Centre Action Group is conducting a ‘feasibility study’ to assess the need and opportunity of the proposed drop-in centre.”
Woodhouse has great hopes for the centre, including bringing in hairdressers and nurses for free appointments.
“We already have some hairdressers willing to cut hair once a week on a volunteer basis,” she said. “We’d like to connect the homeless with outreach services such as the Richmond Homeless Connect (services such as health care, dental, eye glass repair, haircuts, bike repair, food, clothing and more to help people who are homeless to transition from street to housing).”
Woodhouse said they hope to open by Oct. 1 in its temporary site in St. Alban Anglican Church. Ideally, Woodhouse would like a central location, which is close to shopping and is “cart friendly.”
Meanwhile, fundraising efforts are underway with plans for a walk to coincide with the 7th Annual Homelessness Action Week (October 7-13), and a concert at Richmond’s Fraserview Mennonite Church (TBA).
“We are also looking for corporate sponsorship because we simply won’t have enough funds to cover the monthly rent,” added Woodhouse.