Guess who’s coming for lunch: Research study looks at those using Vernon soup kitchen - InfoNews

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Guess who’s coming for lunch: Research study looks at those using Vernon soup kitchen

Darlene Taylor conducted a survey on 89 people who use the Upper Room Mission in Vernon.
February 06, 2018 - 6:00 PM

VERNON - Assumptions are sometimes made about those who rely on services like soup kitchens, but now a unique study out of Vernon is serving up some hard statistics about who they are and why they’re there.

Darlene Taylor, an assistant professor at UBC Okanagan, spearheaded a research project with the Upper Room Mission last summer and says the results are eye-opening.

One of the most interesting takeaways, Taylor says, is that almost half of the 89 survey participants did not identify as being homeless. In fact, 42 per cent said they either owned or rented a home or apartment.

“These people are stably housed, but need the support of the Mission so they don’t become homeless,” Taylor says.

She says it reflects the fact that many people are living on the bare minimum, and if they had to divert more funds to food, they would likely be pushed onto the street.

“The Upper Room Mission is providing a huge service to the community in preventing homelessness,” Taylor says.

The study, which involved a series of 49 questions, showed that more than half of respondents went to the Mission for meals on all five days of its operation, and the primary reason for attending the Upper Room Mission was hunger for 83 per cent of participants.

The results also showed that it’s not all about the food. Just over 71 per cent said they go to the Mission for companionship.

“I remember walking in and seeing the same people playing cards,” Taylor says. “You can see that one of the reasons they go there is that’s where they go to play cards, and they get a meal too.”

A common misconception is that those using the Mission’s services are primarily transients, Taylor says, but that’s not supported by the data. Just under half the participants (42 per cent) have been in Vernon for more than 10 years, roughly 15 per cent have been here for five to 10 years, and about 24% have been here between one and five years. Just 19 per cent have been in Vernon less than a year.

“It’s people from Vernon who are being served,” Taylor says.

The Mission’s co-executive director Lisa Anderson says many of the results affirmed their observations, but others surprised them, such as the number of people with stable housing. The findings may lead to re-vamped programming targeted more specifically to the needs of their clients.

“We now have a better understanding of who is coming through our doors and who we are serving,” she says.

A big impetus for the Mission to collaborate in the project was the changing faces of those coming through their doors. Increasingly, seniors, families and even children are attending the Mission, Anderson says. With people from all walks of life, and a variety of personalities and mental health and substance abuse issues, the Mission was curious about the level of comfort a single mom attending with her child, for example, might feel around diverse behaviours. That question was posed in the survey.

Almost half (49 per cent) said they were comfortable with everyone, while 56 per cent said they sometimes felt like leaving because of people and activities they were uncomfortable with, and 33 per cent said that on occasion they don’t want to go because they’re afraid something might happen. One of the biggest takeaways was the sense of camaraderie participants expressed in response to this particular question, Taylor says.

“They said ‘we feel comfortable because we look out for one another, we protect one another. If a mother comes in with her children all of us are going to make sure nothing happens to that child,'” Taylor says. “They look forward to seeing the children. They know if anything were to happen they’re on the ready to protect that child.”

She says there was also a lot of sympathy and understanding expressed for those struggling with mental health issues.

“Those people were very tolerated by people who don’t have mental illness and the reason why is, people said ‘I’ve got my own problems, that’s the problem they are facing.’ The sense of community was amazing.”

This is the only study of its kind that Taylor is aware of, and she’d like to conduct something similar in other Okanagan communities. The Upper Room Mission plans to use the study in grant applications to support the work that it does.

“Community groups spend a lot of time justifying why they need money and why they need to be there,” Taylor says. “(The results) show the Mission is saving the community money by giving someone a meal.”


Average age was 45, with the youngest participant being 23 and the oldest 84

61 per cent identified as Caucasian
20 per cent identified as Aboriginal

39 per cent had an elementary school level of education
38 per cent finished high school
20 per cent completed college or university

56 per cent had been in jail at some point
63 per cent were told they have a mental illness; 48 per cent were taking medication

40 per cent said disability
26 per cent said social welfare
2.2 per cent said binning
7.9 per cent said pension
1 per cent said selling drugs
1 per cent said sex work
4.5 per cent said full time work
10 per cent said part time work

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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