As a student nurse tightens a blood pressure cuff around his arm, Sean McLellan relaxes and watches the bustle around him in the dining room of The Caring Place.
He can’t quite remember when he got his pressure checked last. It could be years.
“If it weren’t for places like this, people would be starving or dying on the street,” says McLellan.
“The community doesn’t understand who were are and what we are. Try living in our shoes for a week to see what we are talking about.”
He counts himself among the lucky few who have a roof over their heads.
“I’ve come a long way from being homeless,” he adds with a smile.
McLellan is a resident of Alouette Heights, the newest and one of the few subsidized housing developments in Maple Ridge.
The building on Brown Avenue opened a year ago and houses 45 cosy bachelor suites.
It is staffed 24 hours a day by a support worker who helps residents stay focused on their plans for coping with past addictions or mental health illnesses.
Residents can stay up to two years and, if employed, pay a percentage of their income in rent.
For McLellan, who estimates he’s spent almost 20 years on the streets, living in Edmonton, Kelowna and Maple Ridge, the housing has been invaluable. It’s provided him with stability.
“It’s also been very different for me having an address and stuff,” he says with a grin.
“I wish there were more places like it. It’s a stepping stone.”
Maple Ridge was the only municipality in Metro Vancouver where the number of homeless people increased in a span of three years, according to a homelessness count conducted by Metro Vancouver.
In 2011 – 102 people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were found without a roof over their heads. That was up from 90 in 2008.
Of the 102 – 40 were housed in emergency shelter facilities, while one person was listed as having no fixed address.
The municipalities were the only place in Metro Vancouver where the number of street homeless also rose – to 61 from 40.
People who work with the homeless locally hope places such as Alouette Heights make a difference when the count is conducted again next year and, perhaps, contribute to a drop in the homeless population.
On Tuesday, the Caring Place hosted a health fair to kick off Homelessness Action Week, providing a one-stop shop where people could get a flu shot, their pressure checked, a mammogram or learn more about local services from literacy to the seniors network.
Nurse practitioner Janet Rosenfeld, who is stationed at the Sally Ann three days a week, knows how important something as simple as a blood sugar or pressure test can be to detecting a more serious problem.
Since she started working at the Caring Place in May, Rosenfeld has been focused on developing a relationship with the people who come to see her.
“It’s all about building trust,” she said.
As a nurse practitioner, Rosenfeld can diagnose health problems, write prescriptions, order laboratory test and refer patients to specialists.
“In the past, these people would show up at the emergency room to get treatment,” says Rosenfeld.
In addition to helping clients keep appointments and stay healthy, Rosenfeld spends a lot of time just listening.
“Most people just need somebody to care about them, somebody to acknowledge them and to validate what they are going through,” she said.
• Wednesday, Oct. 16: Maple Ridge Has Talent takes place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Salvation Army Caring Place.
This event started in 2011 during Homelessness Action Week. Acts range from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between. The public is invited to participate and to attend. Admission is free, but donations are welcome and will support the Caring Place Meal Program.
To participate, call the Alouette Home Start Society’s Outreach team at 604-466-3031 Ext. 112, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Thursday, Oct. 17: Screening of Something to Eat, a Place to Sleep, and Someone Who Gives a Damn: A Film about Homelessness, presented by Cinema Politica from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Maple Ridge municipal hall.
• Friday, Oct. 18: Spa Day, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Salvation Army Caring Place.
This is another popular annual event that brings together services and donations from the community and invites anyone impacted by homelessness or the threat of homelessness to come in for a day of restoration and pampering. Haircuts and other salon services, hot showers, clean clothes, toiletries, makeup, and delicious treats will be available. Donations from the community are needed at this time. Clothing, especially new socks and underwear, is especially welcome. You can arrange donations of gifts, funds or services by contacting Connie McGonigal at 604-463-8296, Ext. 112, email@example.com.
• Friday, Oct. 18: “A Taste of the World” brings the community together for food and conversation to mark Homelessness Action Week and World Food Day in partnership with Golden Ears FEAST, 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., ACT Theatre main lobby. The food will be prepared by volunteers knowledgeable in cuisines from around the world under the supervision of the Caring Place kitchen. The cost of the meal and other HAW activities is funded by donations from a wide range of community organizations, the District of Maple Ridge Social Planning Advisory Committee, the Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, and caring community members. Lunch is free with a donation to the Friends in Need Food Bank. Everyone is welcome.