A foot-care clinic. Advocates providing a crucial link to housing options, scarce as they may be. A well-equipped gym. A fledgling bike-for-rewards program. A dog as companion. A massive pot of chili. An Indigenous-focused crafts-type room that smells so good you never want to leave. A needed dose of humour. Street nurses. Beds and mats. Washing machines (some waiting for repair). Stories that will hurt your heart. Eight magnificent garden boxes overlooking the Thompson Valley. Cigarette breaks and conversations. Mental-health support. Warm kitchens and social rooms and busy calendars detailing the proposed road to a better life.
That is just some of what a visitor to two social agency buildings will experience — and it would be extremely useful if every citizen of Kamloops could take the 90-minute tours to see what is being done to help those in Kamloops who not only need aid, but who are there because they want a hand up to get to a better place.
Touring The Mustard Seed Kamloops’ outreach centre downtown and the ASK Wellness Centre’s Maverick Manor recovery and career development program across from Aberdeen Mall is an education unto itself — time well spent that allows one, however briefly, to get behind the headlines and social media hyperbole.
Granted, an hour-and-a-half at each place merely scratches the surface as to what is happening there, but those 90 minutes give a visitor a heck of a lot of insight into what are truly lifesaving links to those among us who have been bodychecked off the mainstream of society due to trauma, addiction, abuse, poverty or any number of hurdles.
We should all recite in our heads, every single day: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Leanna Wereley is The Mustard Seed’s communications and volunteer coordinator.
As she led a group from KTW through the areas of the outreach centre, Wereley recited various facts, with this one standing out in my mind — between 35 per cent and 45 per cent of staff employed at the agency have what is called “lived experience,” which means they know better than most the struggles endured by those they are helping because they have been there.
One of those staff members is Jeff Arlitt, the manager of The Mustard Seed’s men’s recovery program, which features 17 rooms on an upper floor. There, men who want to get clean take part in various programs as they work to get their lives back on track.
Arlitt knows what they are experiencing as he is a graduate of the program, with several years of sobriety under his belt. And, he pointed out, his experience helps him connect better with the men he is helping.
Over at the Maverick Manor, Neil Van Dongen and Connell McInnis of the ASK Wellness Society spoke of the work their team is doing at the transformed motel.
Van Dongen, the employment support liaison, connects residents at the Manor with work opportunities.
He also has his hands in myriad other projects, including a proposed program that would connect Manor residents and others on the street with bikes. The caveat is that the bikes can be had via credit — sweat equity, as it were.
Connell McInnis is coordinator of clinical services and helps oversee the multi-stage recovery process that is the focus of the men and women who occupy the 42 living units. There are various rules for each stage, but there is also a mutual trust in place, one that takes time to build.
Much like everything else in life, there will be successes and setbacks, goals reached and routes repeated.
Back at The Mustard Seed, health and wellness supervisor Brooke Baird took some time to explain the complexities of her role in connecting clients with myriad services.
Baird’s tale of one woman she is helping was especially emotional and illustrated why there is such disconnect between the so-called “us” and “them.”
The woman is enduring a seriously acrimonious split from her partner, with children’s custody issues involved. She has nowhere to go and is working with Baird to find housing. The search is complicated by the fact the woman has a cat, with pets often posing a barrier to housing.
People might say, “Well, get rid of the cat,” Baird noted. But it is not that simple. With everything the woman has suffered through, and continues to suffer through, the cat has become her most prized possession, essential therapy of sorts. For her, the cat is not a want. It is a need.
There is so much need in the city. And, yes, there is so much strife.
I would urge people to contact social agencies and find out what they do and how they can be helped. Eyes — and minds — will definitely be opened.