VERNON - The Gateway Shelter in Vernon is much more than a place to get a good night’s sleep; it’s a place where many get a fresh start.
At its most basic level, the low-barrier men and women’s shelter funded by B.C. Housing provides beds for the homeless, transient and those in need of temporary accommodation. But it’s also evolved into a hub for numerous resources and staff are getting creative to do their best for every individual who comes through the door.
Tanya Price, Gateway’s case manager, works with an average of 15 clients a day — many of them previous shelter guests working on a longer term plan. Individuals typically get five days at the shelter upon registration, but need to commit to a case plan if they want to stay longer.
“When you start to learn more about these people, you don’t ask yourself why they’re where they are. You say of course they’re where they are,” Price says. “Something I often ask myself is how is this person still alive? It’s amazing they’re still surviving. The people at Gateway are very resilient and very strong people to survive the things they’ve gone through.”
The shelter networks with numerous local agencies to help connect clients with the services they need. In 2015, Gateway offered 91 per cent of clients a case plan, of which 64.7 per cent took one on. Everyone’s case plan is different, for some it might involve getting clean, for others it might be finding a job.
In addition to running a women’s dorm with a capacity of 15 and a men’s with room for 13, the shelter also operates an extreme weather response program from Nov. 1 to March 31 that provides an extra 10 spaces. The shelter is consistently at capacity, including the extra 10 spaces — mats and blankets set up in a common area.
The shelter isn't much to look at on the inside: the building is old and so is most of the furniture in it, but it's exceptionally clean and most importantly, safe.
“We’re getting very creative at Gateway,” Price says. “Yes, we’re a shelter, but in the last few months we’ve created care plans for people to make the shelter more accessible to them because they don’t fit anywhere else in the community for supportive housing.”
One way the shelter has evolved to fill a need in the community is by offering longer term, supported housing for women in select cases. Vernon has several supported housing options for men, including Howard House and Bill’s Place, but there’s nothing like that for women. Until the city gets something in place specifically for women, Gateway will fill the void as best it can.
“We understand we’re the last resort. If we can’t help them, there is nothing else,” Price says.
Housing is a major obstacle for many shelter clients; in 2015, 20 per cent of individuals had case plans that involved finding housing. Of that 20 per cent, just over half were able to maintain housing for six months or longer.
The shelter gives clients a place to sleep, take a shower, do laundry, and often gives them a shoulder to cry on too.
“The staff are amazing and they work very hard at making sure the shelter is a safe place where people can get away from the outside world and focus on their own needs,” Price says.
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