The rent bank in Nanaimo has only existed for a month and a half, but already applications for loans are being sent in daily.
It’s great to see residents in need reaching out for help, says John McCormick, co-executive director of the Nanaimo Region John Howard Society, the organization that’s running the rent bank. But this quick uptake of the rent bank also reflects how many Nanaimo citizens are on the brink of losing their homes.
“We’ve just started up and not done much in the way of advertising … [and] every day we’re getting more,” says McCormick.
“I expect that’s how it’s going to be.”
But the rent bank is ready to step in to help, providing zero-interest loans so people in immediate need can keep from losing their housing, by paying for rental arrears or essential utility arrears.
“Someone contacts us because they’ve hit that moment where they’re going to get evicted if they don’t come up with the rent,” says McCormick of the purpose of the rent bank.
“It’s an emergency situation, so the response times have to be super fast. We have to go from a pre-assessment to a working relationship with the person in a few days, and working with their landlord.”
“These are folks who are not going to get the support they need from a financial institution of any kind, and if they do they will be in a predatory situation where they are going to be preyed upon,” he says.
With the rent bank, repayments can be small, and pauses in repayments are allowed when necessary.
“We want you to be stabilized,” says McCormick. “We’re going to make sure you’re not going to be evicted, and everything else we’ll work with you on.”
McCormick noted that the rent bank is focused on dealing with short-term need, and cannot address every issue. Nonetheless, there are other supports available, he noted. Even if the rent bank isn’t the right fit, connecting with the Nanaimo Region John Howard Society can help those in need connect with other forms of support.
At the core of Haven Society is a simple belief: “We believe all people are entitled to live a violence-free life.”
Those are the words of Dawn Clark who works at Haven Society – an organization that provides escape and support for those affected by family violence and other types of violence, as well as a variety of other services.
And while violence affects everyone, it disproportionately affects some more than others.
Haven Society clients are women, mothers and their children, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of colour, Indigenous people, immigrants, those with physical disabilities, and those in poverty, to name a few.
“These are the folks who often receive negative social responses, and quite often aren’t able to articulate what they need from the powers that be,” says Clark, the director of education, quality improvement and special projects at Haven.
First incorporated in 1978, Haven Society started as an answer to the growing awareness that violence and abuse within the family was a reality for many women and children in the community.
To provide a safe place for these women and children, community volunteers took them in to their own homes.
Now more than 40 years later, Haven Society provides a constellation of services, says Clark, including a transition house, a safe house, counselling services, a community victim services program that helps victims navigate the legal system, outreach, counselling to children who have experienced violence, rent supplements and subsidies, and much more.
Since 2013, Haven has also operated in the Parksville/Qualicum area, opening Haven House there in collaboration with the Society for Organized Services (SOS).
Working from feminist principles, Haven seeks to promote the integrity and safety of women, children, youth and families, and the development of a respectful and healthy community.
It also serves as a link to services offered by other organizations.
“I’m really proud that somebody can walk in through the front door here and not really know what they need, but we can support them in trying to figure that out,” says Clark. Whether the person needs supports through Haven, another organization or a combination of organizations, Haven is there to help, she says.
“We care for the community, we care for the people who walk through our doors.”
That willingness to work with other organizations is reflected in their longstanding membership with the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, having been involved with the group even before that was its name.
Haven is an important representative at the table, as violence is absolutely linked to homelessness, says Clark.
“When families are experiencing violence, when women and children, for instance, come into our transition house or our safe home … the security of their housing is at risk because they’ve left their family home due to violence,” says Clark.
“Once you leave your home because of a violent situation, you are at risk of becoming homeless.”
By being at the NHC table, Haven is able to have the needs of their clients heard.
“If I’m a mom, I’ve left [the family home] and I’ve got a couple of kids, I need to find a home, I need to put food on the table, I need to clothe them before I can even lift my gaze to think about other things. I need to make sure everybody is safe,” says Clark.
And with such low rental rates in Nanaimo as well as Parksville and Qualicum, a single mom with kids is rarely a landlords first choice, she says.
That’s one reason why what Haven Society does is so important.
If you are looking for a way to support your community, volunteering or donating to Haven Society is a great way to do it.
The United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island (UWCNVI) and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy have funded two warming centres to open in the city of Nanaimo between January 18 and March 31.
Warming centres provide a vital respite from cold weather for people experiencing homelessness this winter. Offering a warm space to come indoors, with hot drinks and snacks, warming centres are open from 10am to 4pm at the following locations:
Approximately $110,000 in funding was granted through United Way and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home Strategy. The funds were directed by the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition for the operational costs associated with running the two warming centres.
Many individuals in our community suffer from trauma: the lasting emotional response from living through deeply distressing events. And many member organizations of Nanaimo Homeless Coalition engage in a strengths-based approach to service delivery. They use trauma-informed practice and care to support and improve the well-being of individuals.
The service system can be overwhelming. It can re-traumatize individuals affecting their willingness to participate and engage. This is why trauma-informed practice is so important. Safety, trustworthiness and partnerships are the key to promoting healing. Trauma-informed practice means being committed to collective learning and action, committed to a culture of learning together.
What is being ‘trauma aware’?
Trauma-informed practice integrates an understanding of past and current experiences of violence and trauma into all aspects of service delivery.
Being ‘trauma aware’ means that service providers understand that trauma has affected many in our community. With this, they recognize the wide range of responses and adaptations that individuals make to cope with their trauma. For example, individuals may have difficulty building relationships, they may miss appointments and they may distrust authority figures.
The goal of trauma-informed practices is to avoid re-traumatizing individuals as they work towards healing. There are five guiding principles for how service providers work to reduce the chance of re-traumatization: safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment
SAFETY Ensuring an individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual safety is the first important step of trauma-informed practice. This is the foundation of building strong, trustworthy relationships between service providers and individuals.
CHOICE, COLLABORATION, CONNECTION Creating opportunities for choice, collaboration and connection with individuals is important. When an individual has choice and control of their service experience, they’ll be more likely to participate and the services will be more effective.
TRUSTWORTHINESS Trustworthiness is built in the establishment and consistency of boundaries with service providers. Building trust includes ongoing clear communication about what is expected of the individual, and consistent checking in with clients. Trauma-informed practice meets clients where they are at without agenda, timelines and expectations.
EMPOWERMENT Finally, empowerment focuses on an individual’s strengths and encourages them to build on those strengths to promote resiliency and coping skills. Building these skills and confidence can help individuals manage triggers of trauma and support their ongoing healing.
Trauma-informed practices are sensitive to trauma in all aspects of service delivery and are concerned with the individual’s safety and empowerment. Service providers work towards trust, connection, collaboration and empowerment of individuals on their path to healing.