Castlegar and District Community Services Society (CDCSS) is repurposing the space at the former Way Out Shelter in order to continue to help Castlegar’s vulnerable residents including seniors, people with lower incomes and those in precarious housing situations.
CDCSS staff and volunteers have been busy cleaning and sprucing up the property since the closure of the shelter and converting some of the rooms into office and meeting spaces.
Several of the agency’s programs are operating out of the building, and there is a new weekly inter-agency collaboration offering on-site services.
Every Thursday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., residents can drop in at the new Community Connections Centre (CCC).
The CCC aims to bring a number of support agencies under the same roof on the same day so that those in need of services can have a type of one-stop-shop, making it easier for people to get the help they need.
The centre offers a calm and welcoming environment and a pot of coffee is always ready.
“Often times when people come in, they don’t just have one concern, they have multiple,” explains Deb McIntosh, the centre’s director and the new manager of CDCSS’s street outreach program.
“To send someone who doesn’t drive, or doesn’t have money for the bus, or is carrying around kids — to have them go to several different agencies in one day, or over several days, it’s too hard. If we can make it a little easier for people to come and have a cup of tea or coffee, see the workers and talk about housing, then I think it is a win for everyone.
“If you can sit back and relax for a couple of hours and maybe play in the dirt in the garden — I see that as a win as well.”
The number of service offerings is growing and may change from week to week, but there are a few staples that are available now.
A community integration specialist from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction is there each week to connect clients with supports such as food banks, shelters, mental health and street outreach.
They can also help with income support services. Not only can they process income assistance applications at the CCC on the spot, they can also go out into the community to meet those in need of services right where they are.
This service is especially needful as Castlegar lacks a Social Ministry office and Service BC centre. That means that people in need of income supports, who often have difficulty accessing transportation, usually have to travel to Nelson or Trail to set up or update supports. Having a representative on hand will allow people to drop off documents, sign paperwork and receive the assistance they need in a more timely manner.
Local Indigenous Elder Shemmaho Goodenough is on hand every week to chat and offer encouragement. Goodenough is well know throughout the community as a steadfast volunteer and activist.
Community Harvest Food Bank representatives are on hand to take applications and set people up for food hampers, as well as helping those in crisis situations.
Housing outreach coordinators from CDCSS are also there each week. Their role is to help people find housing, fill out applications for housing, follow through to help them stay housed, liaison with landlords and help negotiate to prevent evictions.
With no shelter and long wait lists for local subsidized housing, the workers can sometimes be a lifeline for someone trying to find housing or at risk of losing the housing they have.
Representatives from the Ministry of Mental Health and Substance Use can also be found at the CCC.
In addition to the CCC, other activities are continuing at the building.
The site serves as the headquarters for the street outreach program and drug testing services. Outreach workers are available Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. - 4 a.m. They hand out harm reduction supplies, snacks, water, help clients navigate support systems, get to appointments and connect with housing and mental health supports.
If you see someone in trouble or that you think needs checked on, the community is encouraged to call the outreach workers at 250-608-9763.
Outreach workers also check on and clean up abandoned camps and put out unattended fires.
Community garden boxes on the property are being prepped with planting to begin soon. The gardens will be tended by staff, volunteers and clients.
The building is still also home to several tenants who live in the former hotel rooms.
McIntosh says the changes have been good for the tenants, giving them more outdoor space and more freedom to enjoy their own living spaces.
“We just want to make it easier for people to access services in their own town in a way that is accommodating and a pleasant experience,” says McIntosh. We want to work together for the best outcomes for everyone.”
McIntosh is striving to build a network of agencies working together and having open and honest conversations about what works and what doesn’t.
She says respect and trust is what is needed in order to see the best outcomes for clients.
CDCSS is also working towards having more open conversations with the public and is in the process of meeting with businesses and others community groups affected by homelessness. If you would like to set up a meeting, call McIntosh at 250-608-1047.
“We are always open to respectful conversations regarding these vulnerable populations,” adds McIntosh.