Dear Victoria

Last week I sat at the window at Relish on Pandora. I had a great cup of coffee in hand and solid Katsu sandwich in front of me when I noticed something intriguing. Our Place, directly across the street, had its parking lot filled with animals.

After my meal I walked over and found out it was Vets for Pets, a monthly program where volunteer veterinarians will come in and give the pets of the less fortunate in our community a checkup. I smiled, petted a few new furry friends and made my way home. I had no idea that Our Place put on something like this, let alone every month. And then a thought hit me: what else is Our Place doing?

There has been a lot of talk about homelessness lately. The recent $50 Million ask from the city to the CRD for housing seems to be better received that the Topaz Park relocation project that had more of a “set it and forget it” feel.

The strengths and weaknesses of the new idea remain to be seen, but what about immediate need? What about dealing mental health, a fixed address, a hot shower or a decent meal right now? This is Our Place.

Grant is right. The first thing you notice is how clean everything is. The place is immaculate. Second, every square inch is used. Their multi-purpose room is an art studio, movie theater, multi-faith chapel and more.  They have medical centers in utility closets and barber chairs tucked behind stairwells.  I was half expecting to pull back the latest Patterson in the library and open up a Batcave.

When we moved to the ground floor, Grant mentioned a few things that I never thought of when addressing homelessness, one being socialization. So many of Our Place’s family members suffer from depression or social anxiety so giving them a safe environment to talk, interact and connect becomes imperative. He linked this idea to Vets for Pets, acknowledging that for a lot of people who visit Our Place, their pet gives them not only an outlet for socialization, but something greater than themselves to live for.

The second is trust. We’ll get further into this later, but Our Place maintains a “come as you are” policy. They don’t force sobriety, faith, an agenda or anything else on their family members. Grant maintains that trust is a key factor in getting someone back on their feet.

You’ll hear that word volunteer a lot throughout this. It’s incredible not only how many people Our Place reaches out to, but how many respond. Nurses, dentists, lawyers, accountants, teachers, clergy and so many others donate their time to provide services that a lot of us take for granted. Think about if the positions were reversed, what would you need to get back to where you are now? Maybe a mailing address? Someone to help with your taxes? An upgrade in computer skills? There is an amazing foresight that goes into selecting the areas of need for these volunteers.

Grant took me downstairs to the hygiene area. One of the things I admire about Our Place is their dedication to make people feel like people. A hot shower, a shave, a place to wash your feet, a haircut… there are just some things that can make anybody feel instantly better about themselves.

Finally we talked about transition. There are three floors dedicated to transition at Our Place and I highly recommend you listen to that last piece because it exemplifies the two way street of trust they try to build with their family members. I’m sure Grant will be the first to tell you that if you impose beliefs on someone, their road to recovery just becomes that much longer. When trust is built, it becomes someone’s choice to get sober, to get help and to get back on their feet.

I’ll admit I have my concerns about the cities new project for housing the chronically homeless. The articles I’ve read skirts the issues of drug use and mental health which are major root causes of homelessness. However I am encouraged by an interview done with Councillor Ben Isitt saying that these would be addressed as well as Mayor Helps acknowledging that you can’t just put a roof over someone’s head and call it a day.

But all this and more is why Our Place is so important. It’s boots on the ground support. Not only does it offer addictions counseling, address mental-health concerns and provide job training but it addresses the question “what can we do right now?” Sometimes all it takes for that first step is a warn meal, a hot shower and someone to trust.

Our Place Society 2014/15 Numbers

579,002 – Meals served

10,007 – Hot showers

2,271 – One on one sessions with outreach workers

497 – Employment referrals

37,783 – Volunteer hours

365 – Days open

If you would like to support Our Place or find out how you can help please visit www.ourplacesociety.com

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