More hope and companionship seen at Nanaimo homeless shelter

By Spencer Sterritt
April 12, 2018 - 1:17pm Updated: April 12, 2018 - 2:27pm

Extreme weather shelter staff say many new faces in their beds meant there was more camaraderie overnight as everyone bonded and learned about each other. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW Staff

NANAIMO — There were new faces and a more optimistic tone among the 30 beds at Nanaimo's extreme weather shelter this year.

Despite the rough day-to-day life of living on the streets or not having a stable place to sleep, shelter executive director Kevan Griffith said the mood shifted in a positive direction.

“I noticed there was a little more camaraderie this year. More like survivors in a life raft,” he told NanaimoNewsNOW.

Griffith said it's likely due to shifting demographics at the shelter. There were many new faces among the roughly 200 distinct users who visited the shelter 4,500 times between November and early April, the highest number since the shelter first opened the doors nine years ago. Many staying overnight had the skills and abilities to survive, reach out and help others.

“For building bridges instead of fences. They've suffered less damage in their life, so they're able to have some hope and share it with others.”

A surprise this year was the number of seniors coming through their door every night.

“I had a fella who retired from a big company here in Nanaimo and had just gone through a divorce. He had a great pension but he couldn't find anywhere to rent.” It was a similar situation for roughly three other seniors. “They had pension money, good references, but they just couldn't find a place that was affordable.”

Several regulars also took serious steps forward, from finding housing or access to treatments.

“They're really moving forward,” Griffith said of the eight shelter-goers who now have a stable roof over their head.

However, all the hope from new faces and community support can't erase the pain many shelter patrons suffer every day.

“Everybody who walks through the door suffered trauma, whether it was 20 years ago or two hours ago. To everyone who walks in, it's not our job to fix them but it's our job to understand.”

Looking ahead, Griffith said he's cautiously optimistic about increased efforts in the community to combat homelessness, specifically a $100,000 drop-in centre currently being developed.

“As long as it doesn't end up just being a hangout, I think it would be great. A skill centre, a place to have some friends, start to feel good about yourself and do a little work.”

He cautioned whatever programs and solutions are developed by the City of Nanaimo and other organizations, they need to be consistent since those who're struggling often can't handle shifting schedules, programs moving or reinvention.

He credited consistency as one of the main reasons for the extreme weather shelter's success.

“They know what to expect when they walk in the door. Nothing changes.”

Funding from the City of Nanaimo was already approved to make sure the shelter remains open for another year. Doors are expected to open Nov. 1, 2018.



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