From homeless to having a life

During the summer months, homeless people in the Kelowna area often look for shacks like these to shelter in. Royal Roads student Lori Turner profiles the work that Inn From The Cold is doing to reach out to people who experience homelessness.

 

From homeless to having a life

by Lori Turner

Reproduced with permission of the Kelowna Daily Courier, where this article was originally published.

"You have no idea how wonderful it is to rediscover the simple pleasures of life, such as going to a movie, taking a walk with a friend or simply chatting over a cup of brew. Most people take those things for granted, but for a recovering addict who has struggled with homelessness, having a friend like Valerie (alias) to share in these activities, has been life-saving.

"I have been able to maintain stable housing and my sobriety for the last 18 months because of the program. I feel like my identity is changing. Rather than seeing myself as an isolated, unworthy, homeless addict, I am starting to feel like a valid part of society," stated Angela (alias).

Angela is referring to the Inn Home Support Program offered by Kelowna's Inn from the Cold (IFTC) - a local agency working with people who experience homelessness.

The Inn Home Support Program won the BC Ideas award and $15,000 in November 2012 because of its innovative approach. The program provides participants with a volunteer-advocate, who is dedicated to establishing a long-term relationship with the participant, which ideally blossoms into a deep friendship. This relationship becomes a key factor in the participants' recovery and ability to maintain stable housing.

"Angela, what is it about the Inn Home Support Program that makes it successful?" I asked.

"My volunteer-advocate, Valerie, trusted me. It had been years since anyone trusted me and it made me feel safe to trust her too. To trust, and be trusted was huge for me.

"Also, Valerie lets me be me. When I want to be silly, and act like a teenager - she laughs with me, not at me. I can be honest and she doesn't reject me. One time, I had to tell her to stop counselling me because I already have a counsellor and that I just need her to be a friend. Surprisingly, she respected my request - and me.

"I haven't been able to depend on anyone," said Angela. "My mother has passed away, and I am not close to my siblings … I have no one who cares about me. Valerie cared. She is consistent. Even when I've missed appointments, she doesn't give up on me. She understands and re-schedules. Another vital thing is when Valerie calls me, she sounds genuinely excited to talk to me - not many people, in my view, are excited to talk to me, and you know what else? She even compliments me. It makes me feel incredible; it makes me feel like a worthy human being because she really cares about me.

"She does the little things that many people think are insignificant. She gives me cards on my birthday, for Easter, Christmas, etc. I can't remember the last time someone did things like that for me.

"One time, I wanted to express my appreciation to her and I made a picnic lunch. It was great to have a kitchen of my own to prepare lunch.

"We had so much fun that day. We laughed a lot; in fact, she has brought laughter back into my life. We giggled like teenage girls in the movie theatre, too. I had forgotten how to enjoy normal life and popcorn.

"So, it's the exchange of trust, acceptance, understanding, compassion, caring, thoughtfulness, honesty, laughter, and just having someone to talk to who listens - these are the things that have empowered me. Do you want to know something else special that she does," Angela asked, lowering her voice, as one often does when they are about to reveal something sacred.

"She hugs me," she said softly. "She's not afraid to touch me - we all need human contact. She hugs me and I hug her back. It touches my heart. There is real warmth between us and it sustains me - it has changed me."

Angela agreed to be interviewed because she wanted to express her appreciation to everyone from IFTC, for helping her transform her life.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer-advocate for the Inn Home Support Program, contact John Farvolden at 250-448-6403 or visit the website at www.innfromthecoldkelowna.org.