LISTOWEL – If all goes according to plan, community members in need will have another tangible support before the bitter cold of winter sets in.
“We’re calling the program Hope Links North Perth,” said Gwyneth Woods, family services manager for the Salvation Army in Listowel.
“The purpose of Hope Links North Perth is to offer tangible assistance and in so doing open opportunities to listen and strengthen as allies those we serve.”
In 2020, the United Way Community Committee’s sub-committee on homelessness started looking at homelessness in the area. Those discussions began to formulate options for how it could be approached. Part of that discussion surrounded accessible shower and laundry facilities.
The Salvation Army has worked, in partnership with that committee and now its advisory committee, to develop a program that would meet those needs.
“It was probably the end of August last year (that we realized) we do not have time to get everything in place for winter. We did a pilot meal program, January to April of last year, which went very well,” said Woods. “It was very well received and it showed us a broader group that needed some additional assistance.”
There was an increase of 85 per cent in the hot meal program from week one to week six, said Woods.
With Hope Links North Perth, a program is being created which will operate three days a week. The program will be located at The Village Table (the former Christ Anglican Church building) on Main Street in downtown Listowel.
“That is Ann and Darryl Voskamp’s building and they have agreed to partner with us,” said Woods. “We can use space there three days a week, so it will be a downtown core space and a little bit more accessible for individuals that we are assisting.”
Hope Links will connect guests to services within the community according to their self-determined needs and goals while offering tangible services on site such as a hot meal, laundry and shower facilities.
“While offering those services on site, we’ll have trained staff and volunteers who will be present and prepared to build those relationships,” said Woods. “We’re looking to hire a full-time staff member this fall and then we would have two to three volunteers on site.”
Hope Links will operate mindfully of any current COVID-19 restrictions and maximum capacity limits.
Woods said they hope to recruit volunteers soon because they will require some training.
“We want to make sure they have some tools in their pockets,” she said. “We will be doing some initial training in partnership with Ontario Works. I am taking crisis prevention training in order to then train all of our volunteers so some of those pieces will be in place and that’s so our volunteers can feel safe and so that the people who are present can feel safe as well.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Gwyneth.Woods@salvationarmy.ca or call 519-291-3200.
“It’s an interview process and then there is quite a bit of training we’ll do, which sometimes people balk at with volunteering but especially in this scenario I think it’s really important,” said Woods. “We want to make sure they are going to be sensitive and welcoming and have some tools as well. That’s all been budgeted in. Anything that is mandatory is covered.”
In North Perth, homelessness in its most visible form as unsheltered has become more apparent in recent years. From recent homelessness counts, many people are provisionally or precariously housed. Provisionally housing is when someone might be couch surfing at friends’ houses or staying with a family member with no formal rental agreement. Precariously housed is when people have to live in fear that their landlord will kick them out because they don’t necessarily have the money to pay rent.
In a recent survey of residents in Perth and Huron Counties regarding rural response to COVID-19, Professor Leith Deacon of the University of Guelph received data that indicates that throughout the pandemic, there have been huge swings in perceived mental health. In income brackets below $50,000, there was a 60 per cent decrease in the perception of excellent mental health and a 75 per cent increase in those who self-rated their mental health as poor.
“Awareness has sparked a deeper look into community needs and a deep desire to serve and to help,” said Woods. “We’ve heard that a lot from people lately. United Way Perth Huron has been actively working to develop a site for a community hub where service agencies can work collaboratively in one physical space allowing easier access for community members, especially those with limited needs financially. While there is lots of service agencies that are interested in doing that, it’s been a slower process than anticipated.”
Hope Links has been approved as a supported partner with the United Way Perth Huron.
“Our budget consists of dollars that have been fundraised through our own fundraising and dollars that are through this supportive partnership with the United Way,” she said. “In addition to that, we’ve started to look into other possible partnerships, so we are starting to contact other service agencies to connect with them. Hopefully what that will mean is they can either be present in the program on regularly scheduled days or they can train our staff as to what they offer and how they offer that, and how people can access that or just provide us with the information, whether it be fliers or pamphlets so we have that at our disposal to give to people coming in.”
Woods said the Salvation Army’s community and family services don’t normally go looking for financial donations except at Christmas time. However, because this is a start-up program, the committee is creating a list of items that will be needed and seeking donations to cover those costs.
“Some of those things will include large things like the washers and the dryers for the program,” she said. “It might also include smaller things like the towels or cleaning supplies.”
Hope Links encourages guests to come up with self-directed goals and to that end, Woods said the goal is to develop relationships with everyone who visits.
“You know yourself, if you have a friend that says, ‘hey, did you know that you can access this?’ you are much more likely to follow through than if you just see a flyer,” said Woods. “We want to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable, where it’s a place where they are known and they know us.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the aim is to open in October.
“The United Way is co-funding the project with the Salvation Army so we’re very pleased that we can do that and we were able to raise funds locally in North Perth primarily through the Out of The Cold walk that we had in February,” said Ryan Erb, executive director of the United Way Perth Huron. “We’re grateful that the committee that worked together around housing and homelessness issues in the region came up with this idea and Gwyneth was able to run ahead with it so here we are…we’re proud to be a funder and proud to have supported the work that helped to decide that this was the right direction for the community.”
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner