Photo by Chung Chow
Homelessness and poverty can seem like insurmountable problems when you need three levels of government cooperating to solve multi-faceted problems.
But on Thursday, Oct. 18, the people of Richmond came to St. Alban Church, 7260 St. Alban’s Rd. for the annual Richmond Connects Day.
It is the product of many people and groups working toward a common goal, making life better for those who don’t have a home or who live with precarious finances.
“For the day, this location becomes a one-stop shop of services, starting at 9 a.m. with a pancake breakfast followed with access to direct services such as haircuts, clothing, meals and healthcare as well as information and referral to services that can be accessed year round,” says De Whalen of the Richmond Community Connect Planning Group.
This year represents a name change and wider focus, according to Whalen.
“Here in the 10th year, the Homeless Connect team is reflecting the reality of our residents by holding a ‘Community Connect’ event with the same features of Homeless Connect. There are more and more people needing housing and services in Richmond, due in part to rising rents, low vacancy rates and incomes not keeping pace with costs. Therefore, the event aims to reach anyone in Richmond who is living in poverty or in precarious circumstances.”
One of the first things people arriving at St. Alban noticed was the pop-up free bike and lock repair clinic offered by two Vancouver bicycle self-help groups. Many who live in poverty need bikes to get to their jobs. It’s a common misconception but it turns out, some of the people living in Richmond who have no homes do have jobs. A bike that both works and that can be locked means they can get from work to facilities like St. Alban when they have a long journey and no bus money.
The donated shoes, socks and backpacks made a difference because when you have no home, you have to be on your feet much of the time, carrying all you own with you and you have to walk everywhere. Poverty makes many decisions for you.
One of the important parts of Richmond Connects is a foot care clinic. When you live away from regular showers and laundry facilities, on your feet outdoors, foot problems arise. St. Alban offers a weekly hot shower service. Living rough often means no ready access to bathrooms let alone showers.
People living in poverty or on the streets do not want to look scruffy. They often have no choice. Just think of how you look when you get back from a week of tenting. Imagine living that way year round.
Hair cuts present an unaffordable luxury to many. Hair dresser Anja Liem, who gave Vincent and many others a trim, allowed those attending to have the same pick-me-up anyone gets with a new hair-do.
Photographer Larry Scherban was then on hand to do portraits of the attendees after their make-overs. A good haircut and some new clothes last long after the sun set on this year’s Richmond Connects.
In addition, flu shots and a doctor were available. Information on jobs, housing, mental health, food security and volunteering options abounded.
The pancake breakfast was well attended by various members of the community as was the hamburger lunch with some of the tastiest potato salad on the planet, according to some attendees and this reporter. Oddly enough, it was faintly pink. It tasted marvellous. It was good to connect with other Richmondites sitting around the large round tables eating.
“Over the years, St. Alban Anglican Church and the Richmond Salvation Army on Gilbert have become hubs of services for people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty,” Whalen said. “Outreach workers from local service providers connect regularly with homeless individuals, providing necessities of life and personal connections to help make sustainable changes. People can also drop into Turning Point’s Resource Centre and Chimo’s lunch program to enjoy a lunch and referrals to needed services and programs.”
On Saturdays, from 8 to 10 a.m., St. Alban also offer a shower to anyone who would like one, along with a hot breakfast, a bagged lunch, and internet access.
“None of these services have regular funding and rely on both in-kind donations and financial support.”
The committee asks this year that Richmond residents consider giving a little extra so that donations can be forwarded on to the year-round services that do not have regular funding. Those services include outreach, life-skills counselling, community education, the extreme weather shelter and the outreach meal program.
“This financial support can make all the difference during the year for people who need help to get off the street and change their lives.”
As evidence of the difference we can make, one of the women helping people find homes has left her own business to do this work.
A mom and a grandmother, she was once homeless when left parentless as a teenager. She knows how important a home is to starting your life over and told the story of a family, a young man and woman living, without a home.
When she became pregnant, they needed a place to live. Richmond has a program that offers a home in a house awaiting demolition. This leg up gives a solid start while keeping a house from dangerous vandalism, a win-win. The new parents found work and eventually a long-term place to call home. Three lives back on track. It’s hard to find a job when you have no fixed address, no place to wash yourself or your clothes and no place to get a safe night’s sleep.
And there is concrete proof that Richmondites can and are making a difference according to Whalen.
“After nine years of holding Homeless Connect events, the volunteer team is happy to see leadership in housing our homeless residents in Richmond. Approved by city council, the 7300 Elmbridge Way development will open its doors to 40 of our approximately 120 homeless folks in the months to come. This is good news.”
While poverty and homelessness are far from gone in our city, Whalen lists the way you can make a difference.
“To help, please send monetary donations c/o Richmond Food Bank Society, Unit 100, 5800 Cedarbridge Way, Richmond, V6X 2A7. Make your cheque payable to Homeless Connect.”
The power of an individual, working with other individuals, to make life better. After all, isn’t that what a community is?