In Edmonton, we have many caring organizations that help support our homeless community. The Hope Mission opened their doors 24 hours per day for the first time this year, and it's a new and important asset to our community. Round-the-clock access to services was something we heard was needed, loud and clear, in the development of our End Poverty Edmonton Implementation Road Map. It's a priority of ours to ensure Edmontonians have access to 24/7 support - so we're thrilled to see this opportunity fulfilled at the Hope Mission, which is why we wanted to find out more about this service.
We spoke with Erin Bonilla, Hope Mission’s Community Engagement Coordinator, to learn more about the organization and how they support their guests.
Could you give us a little background on Hope Mission and what it does?
Hope Mission started as a soup kitchen in 1929 in the basement of a church. It was the beginning of the depression when a lot of people didn’t have jobs and were struggling. Today we provide basic and emergency care, counseling, referrals, addictions treatment and other programs to care for impoverished and homeless men, women and children in Alberta.
What programs do you have for children in Edmonton?
A lot of people don’t know that we work with kids. Our focus is on running preventive programs to try to reach, mentor and support them, especially if they are in tough situations, so that they won’t need our adult services when they grow up.
We run the Tegler Youth Center, in north-east Edmonton, which is safe and fun place for youth to hang out, be challenged, connect and grow as individuals. They have a skate park, rock climbing wall, games room, music recording studio, photo club and many other activities to participate in.
Our free afterschool program, Kids in Action, supports younger kids with activities and mentorship. Kids also enjoy healthy meals with staff, which often is their only real nourishment for that day. One of the more popular events is the Kids in Action 5K and Fun Run. They train year round for the summer race.
Hope Mission also has three summer camp locations with programs for 6 to 17 years of age.
What other services do you offer to men and women in need?
Hope Mission serves over 1000 meals each day and we put on large Christmas dinners to help raise spirits.
We also have over 500 spaces for over-night shelter spaces for youth, women and men. It’s pretty basic. It’s a mat, a blanket, a sandwich and somebody to welcome you in when you come in. They can shower, be protected from the weather and connect with staff. Case managers are available to talk about housing and addiction recovery programs. Guests can also see a doctor at our health center or book a psychiatric appointment.
On November 1, we opened our doors for 24-7 shelter. The 150 day-beds allow guests to sleep during the day, which is the first of its kind in Edmonton. The provincial government is funding this six-month project but we’re hoping to continue it longer through the generosity of the community.
Why is having 24-7 access to beds important?
Hope starts with sleep. Most of us take it for granted that we can go home, close our door, lie in a bed and sleep. If you’re sleeping outside, or if your sleeping situation isn’t safe, you’re tired all the time and it is difficult to make a change. In the winter especially there are increased demand for beds and this allows us to help more. We also want to meet people when they’re ready and now they can come to Hope Mission at any time.
A female guest, who is housed in a rough apartment, was having trouble sleeping. There were constant interruptions, loud noises and people banging on her door. A couple days ago, she came to our shelter to sleep during the day. Afterwards she spoke to our shelter manager and told him that her nine-hour sleep was the best she had in a long, long time. So even though she was housed, the new 24-7 access gave her the opportunity to have a safe sleep and wake up refreshed.
How does the cold winter weather change your work?
There’s no good time to be outside day and night in the elements. In the summer, people deal with heatstroke and sunburns. In the wintertime, it’s frostbite. Our services stay fairly constant though out the year.
What does change in the winter is what we need. Warm winter clothes are essential, especially socks... we always, always need socks. We literally could give out five hundred pairs of socks tonight because everyone in our shelter needs them.
What should the general public do if they see someone in need?
That’s a great question. If you see somebody who’s in distress call 211 and press #3. They will dispatch a crisis diversion team to go check on that person. We can bring them back to our shelter, give them the supplies they need and make sure they’re ok.
What do you wish Edmontonians knew about hunger, homelessness and hurting?
I wish they understood that people that we see here every day are not a very different population. We see all ages. We see men, women and children. We see moms with babies coming through. We see families. They are people who are deserving of dignity and respect.
How can people support Hope Mission?
We’re really grateful for our community that rises up to support us and the people that we serve.
Financial donations will help us serve Christmas dinners to guests, provide low-mobility beds and keep the 24-7 program running.
Donations of warm clothing, socks, underwear and hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant) are also appreciated. These simple items can mean a lot in restoring dignity to somebody.
To donate or volunteer with Hope Mission visit their website.