VERNON - Marginalized women looking for a safe place to go during the day can find what they need at Charlotte’s Place.
The cozy room in the basement of the Upper Room Mission in Vernon is furnished with roomy couches, a kitchenette and a long table where women can sit together, snack and talk. It’s a place where women can come and have a cup of tea, watch a movie, draw in a colouring book or just take a nap.
“Women just need a place that’s safe, where they’re not going to be exploited. Some of our women are street workers or people with addictions. They need a place where they won’t be asked for anything,” coordinator Delma Sarich says.
Charlotte’s Place first opened a couple years ago, but due to staffing shortages and other snags, like a flood at the Upper Room Mission in December 2014, never truly got off the ground until January 2016 when Sarich, along with Upper Room Mission director of resource development Lisa Anderson and fellow coordinator Breadan Pryce, met with other service agencies in the community.
“We sat down to identify the gaps in the community,” Sarich says. “Back in 2011, the women’s centre closed down and that left a huge gap in the community, so we want to fill that in some way.”
Out of that January meeting, which included representation from Interior Health, probation, the street nurse program, the Vernon Women’s Transition House and the John Howard Society, came the conclusion what marginalized women need most in the community was a safe, welcoming place to go. With its comfortable, homey atmosphere, Charlotte’s Place was the missing link.
There’s no eligibility criteria or forms to fill in at Charlotte’s Place, all women are simply welcome. Since a Feb. 3 launch, Sarich says they’ve had women from age 17 to 75 drop by.
“The most important thing is we’re building a rapport and building trust. A lot of these women don’t have that,” Sarich says.
In contract to a more institutional office, the atmosphere at Charlotte’s Place is informal and relaxed. While casually interacting with the women, Sarich says coordinators are able to learn more about them and make referrals to the appropriate service agency.
“If it comes up that they need housing, we can make a referral to housing outreach, or they might need some clothing or a haircut because they just started a job. We were able to refer one girl to get her hair done,” Sarich says.
Charlotte’s Place is a special spot for many, including those who knew its namesake: Charlotte Shipmaker. Charlotte visited the Upper Room Mission for nearly 30 years and all who knew her remember her beautiful smile, which she shared with the world often despite one side of her face being paralyzed. Charlotte was getting help at a treatment centre in Kelowna when she decided to leave one night to return to Vernon. She was hit and killed by a car on the side of the highway. When the Upper Room Mission was deciding what to call its new women's centre, volunteers couldn't help but think of Charlotte, and her beautiful smile.
Currently, Charlotte’s Place is open from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. Program coordinators are working on setting up outreach sessions with other agencies, expected to be scheduled in the mornings Tuesday to Friday.
For more information about the program, or to donate, click here.
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