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Impact Stories

Beyond coats – strengthening vital connections for Chilliwack’s homeless

There are over 300 homeless in Chilliwack. Many received new coats, mitts, boots and socks thanks to United Way’s unique ability to bring organizations, businesses and individuals together.

There are over 300 homeless in Chilliwack. Many received new coats, mitts, boots and socks thanks to United Way’s unique ability to bring organizations, businesses and individuals together. Photo: Nazym Jumadilova/unsplash

The number of homeless people in the Fraser Valley is trending up. Last year, over 300 individuals were homeless in Chilliwack, according to the Fraser Valley Regional District Homeless Count. Some live outside or in cars, while others couch-surf. Thanks to a United Way–led Reaching Home project many now have warm socks, coats, boots, hats and gloves during the chilly winter and spring months.

“Being warm and dry is so important for health and for dignity. Being able to provide properly sized, good quality items for those most in need means they have to spend less time worried about that basic need,” says Margaret Reid, United Way’s Lead on this special project.

United Way received a grant through Chilliwack Reaching Home. The federally funded Reaching Home program invests in the community to provide funds for local programs and initiatives that address homelessness and is managed for the community by the City of Chilliwack.

The funding allows United Way to work with front-line partners like Cheam and Skwah First Nations, Pacific Community Resources Society, Cyrus Center, Salvation Army, Ruth and Naomi’s and The Portal, along with community champions, including those who have experienced homeless, who find hard-to-reach individuals who are living outdoors and are not known to local agencies.

Stepping in where gaps exist

While many Chilliwack agencies working with homeless people have created safe places and built meaningful connections with clients, staffing and resources are always part of the equation when it comes to getting and delivering supplies. Enter United Way.

Along with supporting front-line service providers to distribute clothing, United Way used its ties to the local business community and Marks’, the Canadian clothing and footwear company, as a supply partner offering preferred costing options.

“We secured space to help with sorting and distribution with The Salvation Army Chilliwack as well providing management and support to the project,” says Yves Trudel, Fraser Valley Regional Director at United Way.

“We can handle the invoicing, shipping, sorting parts of the process for the frontline agencies. It takes that concern off their plate,” Margaret says.

Hi Neighbour creates vital connections

Former United Way Community Builder Margaret uses her skills to connect Chilliwack’s homeless to much-needed supports – among them warm clothing.

The strength of the relationship between frontline providers and United Way’s Reaching Home project is thanks in part to the fact that Margaret already had strong ties to local partners, agencies and community champions through her work as a Hi Neighbour Community Builder during the first six months of the pandemic.

“Margaret is a community leader and well respected,” says Bradley Gionet, Corporate Sales Manager, Mark’s Aldergrove and Chilliwack. “It was an easy decision to jump in and get involved where we can. Mark’s Commercial Services has a wide range of vendors throughout the country, and we were able to track down the majority of the product that was required.”

Working together, to date Reaching Home has distributed 75 winter coats, 59 pairs of winter boots, 68 toques, 50 pairs of gloves, 750 pairs of merino wool socks and 280 pairs of underwear to those in need.

Unique strength as program manager

“We did not impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach but engaged with staff to find clothing and footwear order and distribution approaches that worked for each outreach distribution partner. This included culturally appropriate approaches for the partnerships with First Nations service providers,” Yves says.

“I’ve been able to pivot orders to reflect the diverse needs of our community and each provider’s clientele. Being able to take and give feedback and order items on the fly means the service is efficient, client-centered, and compassionate,” Margaret says.

United Way’s ability to bring together service providers, the business community and municipal governments and organizations like Fraser Health led to United Way being invited to apply for and run this Reaching Home project. And the City of Chilliwack, which oversees Chilliwack Reaching Home as a “Designated Community” under the Federal Government’s Reaching Home Program, was equally pleased.

“United Way, their track record of leadership is second to none. They bring a lot to the table,” says Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove.

Building on the success of the project, United Way’s work to strengthen vital connections to support people in need in Chilliwack is continuing.

“Chilliwack partners are now discussing new ways to tackle the challenge of storage for homeless people’s seasonal gear and clothing,” Yves says.

Local love is creating the kind of community we all want to live in today and for the future.