Teen's death spurs new outreach program in Cranbrook
Two years after a 15-year-old Ktunaxa youth died out in the cold in Cranbrook, B.C., a new outreach centre is offering daytime shelter for the needy and a chance to reconnect with estranged family and friends.
Organizers of the Street Angels centre say the teen's death was a catalyst for the program, which began providing services this year to the homeless, the sheltered poor, the elderly and anyone else who walks in the door.
Debbie Whitehead, social investment director for the Ktunaxa Nation, says it's filling a service gap that had left homeless people in the community with no place to go for several hours each day.
"We try not to duplicate any service that's already available," she said. "We don't open up until they close down."
Bob Bowden, who was once homeless himself, says daytime shelter is especially important in the icy winter months.
"Myself, my daughter and many other people that I know walked, just walked around town trying to find a warm spot to stay," he said. "This is a godsend. People really, really need it."
Organizers say between 50 and 60 people sign in at the centre every day for coffee, food, companionship and access to services. "I got a haricut, I got my flu shot," Stella McGrath said. "It's good down here, this place is awesome."
Access to the internet has also become a big hit. Whitehead says nobody used to touch the centre's computers when it first opened up. Now, there's a wait list to log on.
"I found that it became even better for me," said William Kanngiesser. "I could use computers, contact family members I haven't contacted in years -- they have a way of contacting me now."
Staff also visit and provide meals to several elderly clients and those who are unable to leave their home.
Several staff members have lived on the street themselves, or battled drug addiction. Organizers hope their common experiences will make it easier for shelter-seekers to connect and trust in them – and get back on the path to reclaiming their lives.
With a report from CTV's Kimberly Davidson