An Okanagan outreach society has been without a home for more than seven months and is hoping to find a property owner or organization willing to become a part of the family.
Founded by Vernon residents Clary Lausnes and her husband in 2014, the All Our Family Outreach Society operates from Armstrong to Kelowna to help people struggling to get by in whatever way they can. The volunteers have even reached out as far as Surrey and Edmonton.
“We’re very bad at saying no,” Lausnes said.
Not wanting to turn anyone away, the group now needs a new home to continue its efforts in full force in a time of great need.
Lausnes and her husband’s outreach work in Vernon predates All Are Family by about 30 years. The two would take their motorcycle out in the summer, loaded up with socks and sandwiches, and hand out goods to the street people.
Eventually, they started getting donations and their need for storage grew, which led them to the back room of the Winfield Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Lausnes recalls a moment at the local Bank of Montreal that wound up being a major turning point.
“There was a young lady and her boyfriend, she was two months pregnant and they were sleeping in the foyer of the bank in the middle of winter, and they were both addicted to heroin, and he had his shirt off and he was doing the heroin scratch,” she said. “We took them under our wing.”
The woman had a healthy baby girl, Lausnes said, but her boyfriend died in Polson Park sometime later.
“We kind of went, there are so many people who need help but we can’t do it by ourselves. So after that, we kind of decided to form an outreach so we could help more people.”
All Are Family has been without a home base since June. As a result, they’ve been relegated to a food hamper service – a service in high demand during the pandemic but a far cry from the more holistic outreach they aspire to.
“I don’t think people understand how broad of a spectrum we deal with,” Lausnes said of the volunteers who have hosted first aid classes, performed suicide watches and responded to child abuse calls over the years.
There are also plans to offer classes to teach people how to sustain themselves – at the top of Lausnes’s list is a canning class. Others potential classes include sewing, gardening and moccasin-making.
“We would like to teach people how to help themselves, rather than just say ‘here’s food, come back in two weeks,’” she said.
“The only thing we don’t do is we don’t rent houses, and that’s just because we don’t have any,” added Lausnes, whose own house is currently packed with donated items that have nowhere else to stay.
All Are Family is looking for a place anywhere from Armstrong to Lake Country. Their old arrangement saw them based in the back of the Adventist Church, where folks could come in and help themselves to fresh produce, canned goods, shoes, blankets, or simply stop by for some emotional support and company.
Since departing from that arrangement after some changes at the church, they’ve been working out of unheated shipping containers putting together hampers.
“It just doesn’t work, and we have to turn away so many donations because we used to have a sea can full of clothing that people could just come to and help themselves, and without a base we can’t do that anymore,” Lausnes said. “We’ve really been struggling since August.”
The group doesn’t expect to be given a free building and will help cover a portion of the building costs, but paying upwards of $1,500 per month for rent plus utilities and insurance isn’t within their budget.
Any functional space will do, and the group welcomes the idea of once again working out of a church, provided there are no stipulations that folks visiting must be of a certain faith or must go through a religious seminar in order to access support.
“We are not going to tell someone what they should believe and what they should eat. That’s not our position,” Lausnes said. “Our position is just to help people.”
Also, in a spate of bad luck, the group lost the ability to use its hamper delivery vehicle due to a blown transmission — a $4,500 expense before taxes, which the group can’t afford.
To get in touch with an offer to provide housing or vehicle support, visit All Are Family Outreach Society’s Facebook page.