Every morning at 6:30, the men and women who have taken up shelter overnight at the Gospel Mission begin another day of survival. Most of them will be back for coffee, lunch and dinner at the mission and will find themselves back in a bed overnight.
But for some homeless, the Gospel Mission isn’t part of their lives. Enter outreach worker JoAnne McKenzie, who also begins her day at 6:30 and heads out to work with chronically homeless people, those that are not using the shelter and opt to stay in parks, church parking lots or gazebos.
“A lot of them don’t want to come inside, whether it’s addiction or other issues so we go outside with them and we work alongside them on their turf,” she said. “The first thing is building trust.”
While four case workers meet and work with homeless inside the Gospel Mission, trying to get their lives back on track and move them towards treatment, affordable housing and back towards mainstream society, the two outreach workers attempt to get the chronically homeless to use the shelter. Most don’t have identification which means they can’t get on social assistance and many times it takes as much as a year or more to get consent to work with them.
But come the end of March, the Gospel Mission will lose its federal funding for the outreach program. McKenzie will move back inside to work as a case worker while the chronically homeless will not be receiving regular visits from either of the mission’s outreach workers, who often travelled with other health care providers.
“It’s one of the things about being not-for-profit and raising the funds,” said executive director Randy Benson. “It’s tough out there. We’re still working on a few options because we obviously believe in the program. We know that segment of the homeless population is going to be left without support.”
While the homeless situation may seem hopeless to some, there are also many successes the Gospel Mission has had, moving people off the streets and into treatment.
McKenzie tells the story of a woman from Vancouver’s downtown East Side who came to Kelowna and lived on the streets for 18 months before she agreed to get help. She entered detox, treatment and then into independent housing. Another woman was found by outreach workers addicted to heroin and pregnant, living in a tent. Over the course of a year-and-a-half, the woman was able to get into a shelter, get off heroin, have her baby and now has full custody of the child.
“They are not any different than us,” said McKenzie. “They are just down on their luck. If we cut each other’s wrists the blood is the same colour. It could happen to anyone of us at any time. I’ve always said if I can touch one I can touch a thousand. You build that rapport and, you know, miracles happen.”