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Homes for Good Society made gains in 2012
The plan, four years ago, was to end chronic homelessness in Port Coquitlam in five years.
And while the Homes for Good Society hasn't reached that ambitious goal — running into government bureaucracy, among other issues — it has achieved modest successes.
First among its achievements is this: Half a dozen people who didn't know where they would be sleeping from week to week — a car? a friend's couch? outside? — now do.
One mom was living in her car while her older children were couch surfing until she got settled. The society found her a basement suite and provided her with recycled furniture and dishes. Her 15-year-old was eventually able move back in.
A single man who had been homeless for years but was making progress with his issues with the support of New View Society got a subsidized apartment from Homes for Good.
And in November, the group helped another single mom with three young children move to a basement suite and volunteers helped her pack.
"You don't believe it until you see it," said society chair Valerie O'Leary. "It was a heavy burden lifted off her shoulders and she continuously expressed her appreciation all day long. She couldn't believe help was out there."
O'Leary and company hope more help is out there for the society, whose other major accomplishment in 2012 was being granted charitable status, allowing it to provide tax receipts immediately when an online donation is made.
"That will open a lot of doors for us as far as donations and grants go," said the longtime PoCo resident, who noted the society aims to find and subsidize housing for 10 more people this year.
In 2009, the Mayor's Action Team on Homelessness headed by Mayor Greg Moore dissolved to pave the way for a new society with the goal of ending homelessness. At the time, the number of homeless people in the Tri-Cities, including PoCo, numbered about 168, and several ideas were on the table that have now been put in place.
A shelter and transition housing is being planned for 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam. A temporary bridge shelter is now housing about 20 people a night at a PoCo church. Dozens of homeless have been housed and many with substance-abuse issues went into recovery after spending time at Tri-City church shelters. And the YWCA opened an apartment with subsidized housing for women with children in Coquitlam.
But more could be done and that's where Homes for Good came in with a plan to use donations to the society to subsidize rents, find apartments for people and provide them with supports to stay housed.
Moore and company adopted the Housing First model, meaning the group makes no judgements about the circumstances people find themselves in or the reasons for them being homeless, and doesn't expect them to turn over a new leaf overnight. Instead, it houses people first and then works with other agencies to help them make a new life for themselves.
Housing First has taken root in other larger cities but has taken time to get it established in PoCo. There were obstacles to be addressed and, for some time, it seemed Homes for Good was stalled.
Nothing could be further from the truth, according to O'Leary, saying the group "learned our lessons. We've changed and adapted. Nothing has really stopped us."
First, the group ran up against provincial income assistance rules that prevented welfare recipients from accepting donations to help them with their rent without losing some of their benefits. O'Leary said that problem was solved with Homes for Good taking on the role of lessee, negotiating with landlords and subletting the suite to the client.
Then the group had to convince landlords renting to it and its clients was a good idea.
To proponents, it seemed like a no-brainer because Homes for Good becomes responsible for the unit and the rent. But it took some convincing to get landlords to see it that way.
"There is that [stigma] to homeless people, so when you approach a landlord they are a bit leery about bringing in someone who has been homeless."
Another challenge has been funding but once several large donations started filling the coffers, including a $40,000 grant from Mosaic Homes and a $12,000 grant from Soroptimist International, the group became much more confident of its aim to house homeless people and subsidize their rent at a cost of between $4,000 to $5,000 per person a year.
Now the group is looking to house more people and is working with other agencies — such as New View Society (which helps people who have mental illnesses) and Hope for Freedom Society (which helps people with addictions and runs homeless outreach programs) — to find the right clients.
"Later, down the road, we foresee permanent solutions maybe going forward, and having our own units," O'Leary said. "We are not at the point yet."
Whether there will be enough funding, and apartments, to make good on this goal is hard to say. It takes time to turn a good idea into reality.
But O'Leary said the group has enough passion and resolve to do what it takes to make Homes for Good, and the people they help, part of the community.
• Homes for Good is looking for landlords, donations and volunteers for the program. For more information and to donate, visit www.homesforgood.ca