By Jodi Sturge
Director, Homelessness Initiatives
A drop-in centre is exactly what it sounds like – a place where people can come by and be welcomed. EFry runs two women-only drop-ins, Maida Duncan in New Westminster and the Surrey Cornerstone. The Cornerstone is fairly small, really more of a big room than a centre, but despite its size it still provides the real value of drop-in services –
A place where women can come for meaningful connections.
Women need to feel connected. Women using the drop in are either homeless, at-risk of losing their housing, or have very limited resources. Homeless or housed, living in poverty can be very isolating. At the drop-ins, women can connect to social support and access basic services like a safe space, washrooms, telephones, computers, snacks and donations of clothing and household goods.
Drop-ins are a practical way to help fill women’s need for a sense of community. Our drop-in services are low-barrier, which means everyone is welcome. We also develop programs that respond to women’s needs and interests. For example, some of the women like to work out, so we offer exercise classes. After they’ve been a few times, they can feel more comfortable applying for a subsidized Leisure Access Program such the one in Surrey, which provides an opportunity for women to participate in recreation programs at a very low cost.
EFry’s drop-ins are run by volunteers. Many are students looking for rewarding experiences while they’re in school, or women who want to give something back with their variety of experiences and skills. We train volunteers to work at the site and needed skills like Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, so they are able to provide a welcoming experience for our clients. Volunteers work closely with our clients, learning of their challenges firsthand and witnessing emerging homelessness and poverty trends – we’re seeing a lot more seniors and women with children now.
Housing First is an approach that moves homeless people directly into housing but doesn’t necessarily provide support for the issues that contributed to women becoming homeless. It suggests that “people” decrease use of drop-ins as soon as they are housed. That isn’t our experience. Once housed, women continue to seek out the centres and come for the community connection they’ve built– a place to visit their friends and mutually support each other.
Despite their value, funding for drop-ins is hard to access and so we operate in tight confines and dream of being open longer hours, and having larger space to offer more programs. Still, it’s good to see the benefits we’ve been able to create for women with the resources we have.
If you are interested in learning more about our drop-in centres or in becoming a volunteer, contact http://elizabethfry.com/humanresources/volunteer-application.asp