Local program offers inclusion

A unique project helps marginalized adults in the Hope area get the support they need to connect to one another and the community

Winnie Peters with a sample of her art work. Peters is one of the many clients that frequents the H.O.P.E Project. The unique program offers inclusion and additional supports to adults in need.

There’s a unique centre in Hope offering support to marginalized people in the area. Helping Others Pursue Excellence or the H.O.P.E Project is based on an Integrated Hub Model (IHM) program that seeks to offer a connection mechanism for people dealing with mental health concerns, addiction, homelessness and isolation. It’s offered through the Hope & Area Transition Society (HATS.)

“We started this program about three years ago on a grant from Community Action Initiatives and we have evolved from there,” said project coordinator Allison Paterson. “The purpose of this program is to promote community inclusion for adults suffering from mental health and addiction issues —  it’s a broad spectrum, we’re talking about adults with anything from anxiety and depression to much more serious mental health issues,” she said.

While some of their clients are diagnosed others remain undiagnosed, therefore, the Project was created to encompass everyone. The program aims to help facilitate a comprehensive set of supports and social services in one building.

It acts as a connection point to programs within the Hope & Area Transition Society including, Addiction Services, Transition House, Stopping the Violence program, and the Thunderbird Motel Project. It’s conveniently based out of the SOCIA Building (Unit D 895 3rd Avenue) and is incredibly accessible to the community with its downtown location.

“The program is for people 19 and over —  we want to help give our clients a sense of purpose, community and a place to belong,” Paterson told The Hope Standard. “We try to promote this as a community space and they have to show respect for their environment and one another.”

The space itself provides a kitchen with coffee, a central table where everyone can meet for conversation and to work on projects, and a computer area where clients can concentrate on tasks in an undisturbed setting. It’s a warm and welcoming place that offers a solution for people who need somewhere to go during the day and who need an extra hand to navigate the social system.

“There are some basic ground rules that people are expected to promote around one another. We insist that people are sober when they come in — if they’re not, we ask them to leave with the understanding that they can always come back tomorrow,” said Paterson.

People are encouraged to access an array of programs offered by the service, including an events calendar which promotes art classes, Library Live & On Tour, bowling, word games, a dietician, guest speakers and a men’s group. The frequency of some of these activities has lessened over time according to Paterson. Dwindling funding means that support is greatly needed to keep the Project up and running successfully.

“Our programs are contingent on funding — when times were good, we had an abundance of great programming, our classes were weekly and now they’re monthly,” said Paterson. “Funding was good in the first year, so we were able to afford things like outings and lunches.”

Food is currently donated by a host of volunteers including NorthWest Harvest Church, a couple of parishioners from Our Lady of Good Hope Parish, and some independent citizens who prepare food weekly. There are also a couple of clients who contribute a meal on a regular basis.

“Most of our clients are local people who have been in this community for five years or more and many are second or third generation people from Hope,” said Paterson. “I have developed strong relationships with some of the clients over the past eight years that I’ve been at this agency.”

The Project is currently operating on a bare bones budget, but continues to keep its stride with Paterson’s hard work and dedication. The parameters of the program are loose, affording Paterson the opportunity to help in a variety of ways.

“I can help my clients apply for income assistance — things like citizenship, and even with some legal advocacy issues,” she said. I’m there for any manner of help and support that people need.”

Paterson helps clients gain a sense of confidence as they problem solve around issues with other agencies, family members and relationships.

The program sees adults of all walks of life and in different stages. According to Paterson, some are working and some aren’t but they have one commonality, they are all looking for a sense of inclusion.

“The people here are remarkable and resilient,” she said. “I often ask people where they went before, or where they would go if we weren’t here? The consensus is usually that they wouldn’t go anywhere, that they would stay in their homes — people are afraid they would shrivel again and isolate, or end up in a place that might be unsafe for them.”

There’s a perception of an us versus them mentality and Paterson’s clients often feel excluded from the rest of the community. The program encourages participation with the hope that it will act as a springboard to the rest of society.

“I’ve been coming here for two years,” said client Winnie Peters. “I like coming here, meeting new people and making new friends. It gives me the opportunity to use the computer, have coffee and treats and I can use the phone.”

Winnie dreams of one day opening her own flower shop and is currently working on her certification as a florist.

Due to limited funding options for Apr. 1, 2016 the HOPE Project is looking at closing its doors, however the Board of Directors have approved interim funding till the end of June 2016 to see if Fraser Health Authority will step in to fund this much-needed program in the community.  Fraser Health Authority funds similar programs in other communities, but due to a funding formula that Fraser Health uses to determine funding, Hope does not qualify.