For more than a decade, they’ve been helping people transition from homelessness to permanent housing, but now Shelter to Home is the one in need of four walls and a roof.
The group collects donated furniture to help outfit the rented rooms and apartments of people getting off the streets and onto their feet. For years, the charity that is based at Highlands United Church operated out of a warehouse owned by a congregation member. When that was no longer an option, the group operated out of the church, in North Vancouver's Edgemont Village. That was fine during COVID, when little else was going on there, but as community activities return to the church, the charity needs a new place to set up shop.
“We've been looking for a space for Shelter to Home for over a year now and have been unsuccessful,” said Highlands United lead minister Will Sparks. “The market is terrible right now for us. It's way more than we can afford, but I can't help but believe that there's somebody out there [who can help].”
The group does have a budget, provided by donations from the community, grants from the municipality and funding from the United Church of Canada. Ideally, they’d like to have about 1,000 square feet at ground level, with easy loading access and transit nearby. That puts the charity in stiff competition with business owners who have a much greater ability to pay the rent, said Ardis Nelson, business manager and chair of the program.
The going rate for that kind of space is about $23 per square foot, but the rentals typically require triple net leases, which bring other costs over and above the rent.
“We understand that we have to pay market rate. The challenge on the North Shore is that there's not a lot available. There's a lot of competition for it, and it's not inexpensive,” Nelson said.
Since the organization was founded by Ruth Kershaw in 2008, volunteers and donors have rustled up beds and tables for about 2,000 people. Despite the perception of North Shore residents as being affluent, there are many who are struggling, Nelson said.
“On the North Shore, people are homeless because they've had something catastrophic happen in their life – they've lost a job, lost income, had to be in hospital,” she said, noting many of their clients are seniors, women with young children and refugees. “The difference it makes to those people is to know that there are people in the community who care for them. It helps people to feel kind of normal. … The people that we serve, we consider our fellow community members, and what makes for a good community is people caring for each other.”
The group is open to creative ideas, including residential garages or modular storage, but they have to move quickly. As of Thanksgiving, the temporary space in the church is committed to someone else.
Anyone wishing to help Shelter to Home can contact the group via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Highlands United Church at 604-980-6071. The group can also be contacted through its website.
“Come and look at what we do and look at the difference it makes,” Sparks said. “Time and time again, people go from barely able to function to actually having a home. A home is so critical to our overall well-being. … We don't solve every problem, but this is one we can solve.”