Inn From the Cold is not a typical homeless shelter. Sure, they offer a warm place to rest on a cold winter's night and they fill empty bellies with hot, nourishing food, but they won't stop there. They want to see an end to homelessness, and they're evolving a plan to make it happen.
With Christmas behind them and a new year on the horizon, coordinator Tara Tschritter says the charity organization is ready to tackle the problem and bring people into a home they can call their own, and to guide them as they learn to live within their own four walls.
"We just want to ensure that each human being is treated with dignity and respect; that they see themselves as a valued member of the community," says Tschritter. "We work towards solutions to people living on the streets in Canada. We want to move forward to find them sustainable housing; allow them the ability to connect with people, to develop community and to come together to support one another."
Tschritter says the organization started out in 1999 with a small group of volunteers approaching local churches to ask if they would open their halls at night to shelter people living on the street during winter months. The non-profit group became an official charity in 2007 with a mix of staff and volunteers and their power to advocate on behalf of the homeless has increased as they receive funding from Service Canada and one-time grants from the City of Kelowna, the Central Okanagan Foundation and private family foundations. A few months ago Inn from the Cold won $15,000 through the BC Ideas competition. They're also very keen on their own efforts to bring money in.
"We held a Push to End Homelessness event last year that was developed by engineering students at the University," says Tschritter. "There were teams of four and each collected pledges. One person entered a shopping cart and it was pushed by the others from the shelter to city park with a scavenger hunt along the route."
The event earned $20,000 and will be repeated each year.
Another event called Night at the Inn is part of a homelessness action week awareness program designed to bring the community into the world of the homeless so they can share the experience at the shelter. Speakers educate people about the issues surrounding homelessness. As well, the organization holds monthly "dino" events during winter where people can buy tickets to dinner at various restaurants in Kelowna, including the Delta Grand. Tickets for the dinners are available at the Husky Pit Stop on Gordon and Loyal Hair Therapy on Bernard for the January event. Three more dinners will follow in February, March and April.
Inn from the Cold no longer uses churches to shelter people and money goes towards operation of their facility at 1157 Sutherland Ave. There they have an approved, food safe kitchen. Over Christmas, the kitchen was open and special things happened to the delight of the 20 men, six women and a dog sleeping there.
"Three generations of one family came in to cook. There were movies and it was a regular family Christmas for people," says Tschritter. "Two of our aboriginal guests made bannock and we had chill and sandwiches. It went over very well."
Tschritter says food volunteers shop for the shelter five nights a week using their own funds before coming in to cook. On New Year's day, First United Church is hosting a dinner for the community including people from the shelter.
"When trying to engage with a population you don't normally have contact with, food is a great way to communicate," she says.
Part of the grand plan to help the homeless is to eventually reduce the need for a shelter and find real homes for each individual that comes through their door. The charity has done this already for some, with the help of volunteers who pair up with an individual to make the transition from the street to home easier. They help with the reality of daily living, preparing food and getting their partner to appointments.
Social workers are on hand to help manage the stress of change and to follow-up, making sure the person is eating and receiving care. Mental health is of prime importance during this process, says Tschritter, adding that the one-one-one approach used by the shelter ensures nobody falls through the cracks.
"Social workers have caseloads of a couple hundred people which makes it more possible for people to fall through the cracks," she says. "We can keep track to help professionals support one another in our community."
Tschritter says the homeless come from all backgrounds. She's seen students, and some who can't make ends meet because of employment problems. There are addicts and others who are physically challenged or are battling mental health issues.
"There's not a stereotype," she says.
The charity hopes to continue attracting funds and volunteers as it moves forward to abolish homelessness. For more information, visit the Inn from the Cold website.