How a practical home-made gift is making nights a little easier for a homeless Kamloops woman - InfoNews

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How a practical home-made gift is making nights a little easier for a homeless Kamloops woman

Dianna Gallagher (left) and Shar Froese discuss the mat Froese just gave Gallagher and challenges living on the street.
April 28, 2017 - 8:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - Living on the streets of Kamloops for two months now, Diana Gallagher and her dog Rocky have been sleeping rough, in doorways, on cardboard and in shelters when she can swing it. And while it's not much, her situation just improved a little.

Gallagher was the first person to receive a sleeping mat from Shar Froese, who has spent hours crocheting thousands of used grocery bags for this gift. The two met up Monday, April 24, with Froese’s daughter Alyssa and grandson Brody, to offer it to Gallagher.

“It’s beautiful; it’s better than sleeping on pallets, y’know?” Gallagher says. “You can’t carry all the heavy things around with you. It’s just harsh.”

The mat is a light, hardy alternative to things like cardboard or the wooden pallets Gallagher’s been sleeping on. It also means she's able to get around easier and has a regular place to rest, since pallets can go missing. Froese started making them earlier this year after seeing a post on Facebook.

Gallagher has been on the streets of Kamloops for about two months, though she spent time on the street when she was younger. She's been living in an old RV deep in Knutsford, a rural community south of Kamloops, since her husband, Nathan, passed away a couple years ago to cancer. Earlier this year, when she came to Kamloops in her car, a police officer pulled her over for a broken headlight and had the car towed, leaving Gallagher stranded in Kamloops.

It’s repaired, but she’s trying to save money up to get it back so she can get back to her home. She also needs to make sure she has money for repairs to her home and to fuel and insure her vehicle.

“I have to get my light done, so I stayed here in Kamloops, but there’s nowhere to really stay,” she says. “It’s so expensive for rent, it’s so high and then with a dog, if you’ve got a dog it’s even harder. It’s a humbling experience, everyone should try it once in awhile.”

Rocky, a 10-year-old shih tzu, is Gallagher’s companion during these tough times, even more important to her since Nathan died. Earlier this week he was treated to a free trip to Four Paws pet boarding for a couple days to get a bath and bed.

“It’s hard, but boy I miss the little bugger,” she says. "Ten years I’ve had him."

Not wanting to give up her dog, Gallagher has spent more nights on the street, since shelters often don’t take in dogs. She says some shelters have tried to accommodate her, with one allowing Rocky in a separate, sheltered entrance and a woman at another shelter let Rocky stay in her vehicle overnight.

Once Gallagher's car is repaired she expects to live out of it as she saves money before heading back home. Her old RV is heated by propane, and with the long winter this year it drained her of cash. Also, because she lives in a rural area, she needs to be able to keep her car on the road, with gas and insurance. Without her car, living in Knutsford is impossible.

While she's down right now, she's keeping a positive attitude.

“My life has been good, I’ve pipelined, I’ve done lots of things," she says. "It's just this last two years after my husband died that things got really bad.”

Froese met Gallagher a couple weeks ago in the downtown and wanted to help. Froese has seen a loved one live on the street herself, after one of her daughters spent time on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, living rough.

“She ended up on the streets,” Froese says. “She was in dumpsters, she had two kids and lost them. You name it, she had it done to her.”

Froese’s daughter eventually made her way out of the life, but has since died of a brain aneurysm.

“When I see these guys down here it hits home,” she says. “We all lived it.”

Part of what was important for Froese as well was including her grandson Brody, who was the one who actually handed the mat to Gallagher, with a hug.

“I think it’s nice to help people out that aren’t as fortunate as you,” Brody says.

Since the story last week about her grocery bag sleeping mat project there's been an outpouring of helping hands. The Centre for Seniors Information in Brocklehurst held a class Thursday, April 27, with Froese teaching anyone willing to drop in how to make the mats and pass on tips she’s learned. A second class is planned from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday May 4 at the seniors centre.

Women at the Centre for Seniors Information learning to crochet sleeping mats out of grocery bags on April 27, 2017.
Women at the Centre for Seniors Information learning to crochet sleeping mats out of grocery bags on April 27, 2017.
Image Credit: CONTRIBUTED/Shar Froese

The people running the SPCA thrift store are also becoming involved and looking to help create smaller mats for dogs who live with the city’s homeless people.

Other seniors centres and community groups have contacted Froese as well, interested in participating in the project, including a woman collecting bags in Vancouver. Froese says with so many eager to help, she's worried about where to get all the bags more than anything else. Each mat can take up to 1,000 grocery bags.

“If there’s any organization willing to be a drop off point for bags, that’d be great,” she says.

Froese also has a couple more mats she’s finishing up, which have taken her weeks to complete by herself, and wants to get them to people she's met soon.

"They all have a story," she says. "I will help whoever I can help."

As for the one Gallagher has, she's looking to pay it forward if she's able to return to a home with some permanence.

"Do you know what, I think I’d pass it down," she says. "I really do, I think I’d pass it to someone that really needs it, if I got there. I’d take a picture, I’d have a reminder."

Dianna Gallagher (left), Shar Froese (centre) and Froese's grandson Brody (right)
Dianna Gallagher (left), Shar Froese (centre) and Froese's grandson Brody (right)

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brendan Kergin or call 250-819-6089 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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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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