Jun 2020 | Community Profiles
Since 2008, men and women have found overnight respite from the streets, a place to connect with others and a warm welcome at the Unitarian Shelter in Nanaimo.
“Experiencing homelessness can be a lonely, scary experience. We ensure people have somewhere to be where they are seen and cared for,” says Isha Matous-Gibbs, Executive Director.
Beginning as a winter-only shelter, it’s been open year-round since 2019, from 5pm – 7am. This low-barrier shelter is at full capacity most nights. Prior to COVID-19, the shelter had 30 beds. To allow for proper physical distancing, the shelter has reduced the number of beds to 24.
Funded by BC Housing, this shelter offers many services to their guests including a hot dinner, hot breakfast, outreach support and laundry services. “Our programs integrate people into the community instead of isolating them. Our guests have a sense of belonging and ownership – they recently started a garden to grow vegetables,” explains Matous-Gibbs.
The shelter also runs the Free Shower Program at Caledonia Park and many guests use this service too.
A pilot outreach program, launched in January 2020, provides an outreach worker to advocate for the shelter’s guests. Funded by the Nanaimo Foundation, the outreach worker helps the shelter’s guests and other people experiencing homelessness access supports and services to improve their lives.
“The Unitarian Shelter is not just a place to sleep, it is a place for our guests to connect, get a meal, and rest. For many, it is like a little family where everyone knows their name,” says Matous-Gibbs.