Hub volunteers Kevin Getkate, Francis Cowles, Rick Butler and Debbie Picco. (Neil Corbett/The News)

Hub volunteers Kevin Getkate, Francis Cowles, Rick Butler and Debbie Picco. (Neil Corbett/The News)

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Maple Ridge volunteers make The Hub a ‘success’

City facility offers refuge where homeless can shower, eat, and even get community service referrals

Volunteers in Maple Ridge have stepped forward to work at The Hub, to support people living on the street.

City hall received a Strengthening Communities’ Services grant from the province for $1.3 million, part of which was used to create the Community Resource Hub.

A main attraction is a pair of mobile showers, where people who are homeless can get cleaned up. It’s located in the parking lot at The Ridge Church, at the corner of Lougheed Highway at 222nd Street, and the showers run almost continuously from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – when The Hub is open.

Visitors can also eat there, and access other community services.

It’s mostly powered by volunteers.

And although they’ve been working there for months, having started in November, they’re as gung-ho as new recruits.

One of the first people they’ll see is Rick Butler. He retired from work for about two weeks before he started needing something to do. He had been a resort manager and spent 25 years in education, so home was just too quiet.

“I didn’t like it. I’m not sure I’m ready to retire yet,” he said.

He keeps track of statistics, including how many visitors they get, how many meals are given our, the number of showers taken, and referrals for treatment or other programs.

He admits he used to have an “us” and “them” attitude about the homeless population. He sees it as society’s default approach. But for him, that has changed in the past few months. He’s genuinely moved to be part of the solution for people on the streets.

“I started meeting people, and embracing the situation, and realize it’s a “we” problem, not a “them” problem,” he said.

He believes everyone needs to accept they can’t solve homelessness, but they can do their best to make it better.

“For us, The Hub team, the celebration is when we hear we got someone into recovery,” he said.

Debbie Picco brings chili on Wednesdays. Since her son Tommy died of an overdose in October of 2020, at the age of 36, she has gotten involved. She’s with the overdose awareness group Moms Stop the Harm, the city’s Community Action Table, and Maple Ridge Street Outreach.

“I was needing to connect with the life that Tommy lived,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of the people he knew, and a lot of them have nice things to say about him.”

“It warms my heart to be able to be hear. And I think if something like this had been here when Tommy was alive, he would have been here.”

She credits Daughty Preena for making a great dish.

“It’s Daughty’s chili, and they love it.”

Kevin Getkate is one of the numerous volunteers from Non-Judgmental Recovery (NJR), a group that has been getting acknowledgement for the outreach work it does locally.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge recovery group driven to help drug users get rehab

READ ALSO: Samaritans of the streets – big hearts reaching out to Haney’s homeless

He was handing out clean towels, facecloths, soap, toiletries and clean socks to people coming for a shower. They can also get donated clothing, a naloxone kit, and other items.

And, if visitors are ready, they can have conversations about referrals for addiction treatment programs.

Francis Cowles greets them with a smile and a hot chocolate – which he says is like an elixir early in the morning.

“They’re cold, damp and freezing from the night,” he said.

He’s also serving up breakfast fare donated by Starbucks, instant oatmeal, cups of instant noodles, slices of hot pizza and water bottles. There are also bag lunches courtesy of the Salvation Army. It’s generally all gone by the end of the shift.

His son is Chad Cowles, the city manager of the Community Social Safety Initiative, who recently recruited his retired father for the job. Francis remembers the gentle persuasion, that went something like: “Dad, you’re not just going to sit around and watch Wheel of Fortune.”

The elder Cowles is glad to do it.

“I’m giving something back,” he said. “Any one of us could be out there.”

When it first opened, The Hub would get seven or eight visitors per day, but now they get 45-55 per day, and just surpassed 1,500 visitors.

Chad Cowles said when his Community Safety Officers ask a homeless person to move away from a busy storefront, or a place that has caused a complaint, the Hub is a place where they can go. It’s a positive place for them to be. It changes the conversation between CSOs and people on the streets.

He credits the Ridge Church for hosting, and said “Their congregation has really connected with The Hub.”

Funding for The Hub expires on July 31, and the city is already working on a new source of revenue.

READ ALSO: Ukrainian couple and Maple Ridge politicians work to host refugees

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