Impact Stories

Wrapping Blankets

Wrapping blankets brings an inclusive approach to supporting clients. The Snuneymuxw Huilt Lelum First Nation takes a hands-on, inclusive approach to supporting those who find themselves homeless. With a “One Canoe Model of Care” approach, staff respect each and every person equally with the client as the “skipper” and the staff present to support as people navigate their own story/journey.

“From the beginning, this program has been to bridge the gap in our community, to help those falling through the cracks and not getting the services they need,” says Lea-Lah Manson, one of the coordinators of Wrapping Blankets, the Snuneymuxw’s outreach program.

At its core, the definition for “homelessness” for Indigenous Peoples encompasses far more than a lack of structure for living. Encompassing their worldviews, homelessness is defined best by Jesse Thistle, an Indigenous Scholar. “Indigenous homelessness is a human condition … individuals, families and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships.”

Making Connections

The connections that the Wrapping Blankets workers create with those they help is unique. Lea-Lah describes one of her interactions, “We had one elder who was really destitute and he wouldn’t talk to anyone. Because of our shared humour, we can make each other laugh and he felt safe with us. He’s my favourite success story. In the beginning, he was always breaking or spraining an ankle so he would be stuck in one place. But now he’s living in affordable housing and he looks so different – he looks human, not like a broken man, and he’s living his life again.”

With the help of another coordinator, Alisha Keating, as well as summer student, Lloyd Charlie, Lea-Lah makes her rounds to help those living on the street. Right now, they are distributing care packages that include a variety of things, many requested by the individuals they are helping. “I wouldn’t have a clue about what they need so we asked them. We give them snacks like fruit cups because many don’t have teeth. We had a request for mandarin oranges so we’ll get those as well. We also give out pepperoni sticks, chips, and drink boxes,” says Lea-Lah. Alisha adds, “they also love the protein drinks we give them.”

“When I started about two years ago, we were handing out 25 bags a day, then it went to 35. This week it was 40 but now we are going to have to up to 50,” says Lea-Lah. According to Alisha, “we basically run out before we get to the north end of town. We go to our three main spots downtown and our bags are gone so we haven’t been able to leave the core.”

Support from Reaching Home

Before funding from The Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy enabled them to buy a van, Lea-Lah was using her personal vehicle to make deliveries. Now the clients recognize the purchased van and eagerly wait for the crew to arrive at their main delivery spots.

“It holds a lot more,” says Lea-Lah. “We’re able to have a change of clothes, shoes, harm reduction, water, Narcan, and if we have any extras of things, we can bring it. We can also have the tents and sleeping bags in there…it carries a lot.”

The First Nation also has a commercial kitchen which they prepare meals in one day a week. If time allows, they try to hand out two homemade hot meals a week. Funding also allowed them to buy a refrigerator to store cold items. “During the heat wave, we were handing out frozen water and freezies. We bought three boxes of freezies and put them in a giant cooler to hand out. We also had bottled water so we definitely needed our own fridge to store it all,” says Alisha.

Respecting each and every person

Among their other requests by their clients, Lloyd says, “Last week was one of the first times we heard someone ask for toothbrush and toothpaste, so now we have Ziploc bags full of dental supplies we’re going to hand out.”

When I talked to them, the three were also preparing for their annual cultural community event. Lea-Lah describes it, “We have hairdressers, footcare nurses, and showers available. We also have food and other items for them. It’s open to everyone. Last year we serviced about 50-55 people and I’m expecting more because we’ve been getting the word out.”

It is clear when talking to Lea-Lah, Alisha, and Lloyd that they are passionate about helping people, and being an advocate for those they feel don’t have a voice.

As Lea-Lah says, “I feel something doing this. It’s just dear to my heart because I have a lot of family members who are homeless. Homelessness has been an issue in our community for at least 10 years because we don’t have the same things that we did before like people living in multi-generational homes. We needed to have a different approach and it needed someone to speak from them because they’re so voiceless. People don’t understand they have traumas and that’s why they’re out there.”

Lloyd and Alisha agree, both expressing their experience with homelessness in their communities. “For me, my mother is homeless,” says Lloyd. “She works but she can’t afford a place, so she stays with me.” This firsthand experience lends to Lloyd’s unending compassion for people he sees in need, even picking up a man he saw sleeping on the streets one night in the rain to take him to a shelter.

Alisha shares that a proud moment for her was when her daughter showed compassion. “She had her allowance money with her and she handed it to me and said to give it to this guy she saw sitting on the street. I felt like I was doing something right. It was heartwarming.”

It is programs like this one that make an impact in helping those who are homeless, and thanks to funding from Reaching Home, people like Lea-Lah, Alisha, and Lloyd can continue making a positive difference in the lives of others.