Manna Homeless Society is changing the kind of support it gives, in hopes of focusing on the vast majority of homeless and impoverished people who are willing to work on their own care, said Manna director Robin Campbell.
To that end, Manna will only be providing small amounts of food and clothing, and only on an emergency basis, while focusing instead on health support.
Campbell, along with Manna’s community chaplain and operations manager Jerrold Paetkau and volunteer Rosemary Graham, sat down with The NEWS to discuss its new direction on Nov. 16. According to the city, a cease and desist letter had been sent to Manna the day before, ordering Manna to stop providing support to the homeless at the Jensen Ave. West location between city hall and the Parksville fire hall.
However, Manna leadership had already decided to make changes to the kinds of homeless support it provides, and that includes a decision to stop working out of that Jensen location, at least until it spoke with the city’s new council, said Campbell.
As of Nov. 21, Manna is providing its community care mobile support on Wednesdays only, out of the Salvation Army parking lot until a more permanent location can be sorted out.
“At Jensen we were giving out coats, warm clothes, boots, we were giving clothing, and then we started supporting the Salvation Army and not doing the food thing, and supporting them more as a food bank, and just giving out emergency (food), a little bag with an energy bar and some water, a couple other things. But very, very little,” said Campbell.
While that kind of support has worked for the vast majority of people in need that Manna helps, “there is a few per cent who take advantage of all situations… and they kind of wreck it for the 95 (per cent) who the public really doesn’t see, which is very, very sad,” Campbell said.
Referring to the group of homeless people camping at the Jensen location (up to 15 people at times), Campbell, Paetkau and Graham said the support Manna is providing, isn’t working, and so they are changing what Manna does.
“The big thing that we’re doing with Manna, as other agencies, is we’re… trying to help people take charge of their personal care by identifying what they need and then helping them take steps towards accomplishing their goals,” said Paetkau. “The challenge with the group on Jensen is they are very unwilling to make any personal choices for care and are relying on the generosity of so many in our city.”
Now, Manna plans to redirect that generosity. Instead of providing food resources directly to those at Jensen, Manna will instead support the Salvation Army and the SOS when it comes to food (other than emergency rations), and focus on providing mobile healthcare support.
CHANGES OVER THE YEARS
Manna Homeless Society got its start in 2011, though before that, Campbell said he was helping people out of the trunk of his car.
“I just kind of noticed that some people needed some help,” he said.
Once it became a society, Manna got several vans and provided support like food and clothing as well as tents and sleeping bags.
At the time, city council didn’t believe there were homeless people in need of support, said Campbell. “I made a couple videos, day in the life of a Manna volunteer… my wife went homeless for a few days in town, we did these things to bring attention to the less fortunate,” he said.
Over time, Manna has changed the support it provides, adding things like the free bicycle program.
“We saw a lot of change immediately, people were competing for jobs, people were making it to health appointments, etc. It was a very good program. We continue with that one,” said Campbell.
More recently, about a year or so ago, Manna stopped providing tents, tarps and sleeping bags, Campbell said.
“The deal was we had to know where the tent was, we had to have access to it… we wanted them in campgrounds, not on government property… it just didn’t work,” said Campbell.
It’s next big change began when it launched the community care mobile in the spring of 2017: a small RV that Manna stocked with medical supplies.
“We notice that there’s a lot of people with issues with health and disease in the community. There was no safety net. So that’s when we built, we bought the community care mobile,” said Campbell. But, at the time, Manna could only provide supplies, like bandages, creams and naloxone kits, to people — not provide any actual care.
That’s changing. Manna now has a nurse practitioner who is able to do more than just give supplies, but can provide some health care services as well.
And it doesn’t stop there. Manna is also looking to partner with social workers, mental health professionals and others to be able to deliver a variety of health care services to the homeless and impoverished, making it easier for them to get help and get healthy.
The idea is to make getting medical care easier for those who have a hard time getting a doctor or the Oceanside Health Centre, said Graham, who’s a nurse practitioner doing volunteer work with Manna.
“I think from a health perspective, some of the challenges of homelessness are not having a fixed address to register your health care care to, to receive your mail, not having a place for a healthcare provider to go, not having access to transportation, maybe not being able to organize yourself because of mental health issues, because of addictions, because of pain, fear, trauma: those are the individuals who we might be able to serve,” she said.
“Take an individual who might be too disorganized because of their addiction, their mental health issue, showing up at the care van to meet somebody — that’s a step forward, and it takes work to even get them to that point.
“And then to sit and have coffee with somebody like Jerrold or with a nurse, and to sit still enough to have that coffee and a conversation, that’s a step forward. And then to come into the van to actually get their blood pressure checked, or somebody to look at their feet, that’s a step forward, and all of these little steps can add up to a big distance travelled.”
Asked if any of these changes were due to pressure from the city, Campbell said there certainly has been pressure from the city, especially as those tenting at the Jensen location have become a focal point for the issue.
Some have responded positively by offering support, said Graham. However, those choosing to tent at that location do not represent the people Manna is trying to support, or what Manna would like to see happen, said Campbell.
He noted that Manna remains committed to doing its work legally, and working with organizations and municipal governments to help the homeless.