Home sweet home
It’s difficult to imagine Kevin Bond as the type of person who could burn all his bridges, only to be left penniless and homeless.
He’s cleanly dressed, pleasant to speak with and is a functioning member of the Kelowna Gospel Mission’s volunteer team.
But mental illness and addiction have had their way with Bond who, like so many other former clients, found himself reliant on the Mission.
He used the Gospel Mission on-and-off for what he characterized as “100 days of hell.”
“Nobody wants to stay here. It’s not what you want to do,” he said, pointing out that there’s no personal space in the emergency shelter, it smells, is filled with conflicting personalities and when you dump all your possessions off in a storage bucket upon arrival, you can’t help realize how little your life amounts to.
With the advantage of hindsight, Bond said he can see it’s ultimately what got him back on his feet.
“I was like a scalded cat, but I was lucky enough to get in front of the right case worker,” he said.
They helped Bond get on the right medication for his anxiety, tap into the right services so he could support himself, and end the cycle of self-harm before ultimately getting into a home he could call his own.
“Having your own place makes such a big difference,” he said. “And I can’t stress enough how much living (at the Mission) makes you want to never live here again.”
He’s been in his own home for over a year, which means he was able to start giving back by volunteering at the soup kitchen. These days he has keys to all the rooms he once used, and speaks with the other guys about what they’re facing.
He’s a good resource, he explained, because the clients realize he knows what they’ve gone through.
“Everything happens for a reason, and this is where I belong,” he said. “Now I have a sense of purpose, and that’s amazing.”
The mission assists more than 600 new clients each year, and uses a long-term plan of support which includes everything from getting new ID to finding a rehabilitation program, if necessary. For many of those clients housing is the last step to independence. Considering the barriers facing clients, it’s no small feat.
Just the cost of housing in Kelowna, and the extremely low vacancy rate create a significant road block.
Ministry assistance is $610 a month, which allows for $375 for shelter and $235 for food and bills. Then throw in a lack of references. It’s a tightrope that case workers are able to help the clients traverse and this summer they were particularly successful.
In June, July and August combined, mission staff helped more than 100 people find homes.
Chris Moffat and Kirsten Crossan are two of the case workers who have taken on that job.
To them, the biggest hurdle is building a rapport with the client, and getting them to trust again.
“These guys have had so many bad experiences and they don’t want to trust,” Crossan said.
Many of the people at the mission’s doorstep are like Bond. They’ve been hit by less than ideal circumstances, which led to some poor choices and even worse results.
And the problems being faced aren’t always about addiction. Crossan explained a growing number of divorcees and seniors have been tapping into their services, while the homeless population in general is seeing a growth among youth.
The one thing they have in common, is their humanity and a story to tell.
“I’ve met some unbelievably cool people here,” said James Gleghorn, the mission’s director of development. “I’ve met pro athletes and lawyers, and they could be you or I, save one bad decision.”
While the mission’s workers remember that they’re helping regular people, it’s sometimes getting the clients to remember that fact that’s the biggest challenge.
“My philosophy is that my guys get put down a lot, and I do not let them put themselves down and spin their wheels for months at a time,” said Moffat. “We have got to keep pushing forward.”
Community partners are key to that forward momentum. In the last two years volunteerism at the mission has increased by 50 per cent, while 2,500 Kelowna residents helped fund the endeavour.
Then there’s the RCMP, downtown patrol and various other community services that help get so many at the fringes, pushed back into the fray.
But will there ever be a need to close the mission’s doors?
“If I had no hope, I wouldn’t be doing this,” said Moffat.
“How do you end homelessness?” added Tony, the caseworkers supervisor. “One person at a time. As long as we keep doing that, we’re on the right track.”