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Cariboo Friendship Society clients make strides toward a better life

With the death of seven clients to addiction issues in the last year and a half, Cariboo Friendship Society homeless shelter co-ordinator Heather Burnett said she worries about losing more people.

“Many of our clients are so far into their addictions and have mental health issues,” Burnett said Monday.

One of the youngest women who died last year was in her 20s.

She was trying to become sober, and the day after she died, Subway called to say they had a job for her.

“She had been struggling to turn her life around,” Burnett recalled.

Since the beginning of December, the shelter has housed 33 people for a total of 95 night stays in its 30 available days. Occupancy is at 78 per cent right now, and if it gets crowded, there are 10 mats they could use on the floor.

Normally the shelter only houses adults, but if a woman shows up with children she can stay in one of two family units, Burnett said.

And if the shelter admits someone under 18 years of age, just for one night, then no adults can be placed in the same room for safety reasons.

Shelter case manager Crystal Williams said with the colder weather clients tend to stay at the shelter longer.

May is always the busiest time of year — probably because people are moving.

Staff know who is homeless in Williams Lake so on cold nights like last weekend, they will worry if someone doesn’t show up.

Williams said it’s single people who are more likely to be homeless and fall through the cracks.

They are the hardest to house because if they are on income assistance they receive $375 for rent and a total of $620 to cover all monthly living expenses.

Jubilee Place — a transition house for homeless people — has a waiting list, as does the Cariboo Friendship Society housing.

There has been a bit of reprieve, however, at the 150 Mile Roadhouse, Williams said.

Owner Roman Navratil has turned the existing eight rooms into low-income housing and his manager, Mike Legault, said they are in the process of making more rooms.

“We take people from the shelter,” Legault said. “This morning I interviewed someone who was in the shelter 40 days who will be coming to live here.”

Tenants have their own clean, affordable room with a bed, fridge, microwave and private bathroom.

“It’s great,” Williams said.

Transit from Williams Lake doesn’t service 150 Mile House, however, Friendship Centre staff have been driving out to the roadhouse to give tenants a ride into town to do shopping or go to appointments.

Burnett said there are other good news stories.

Two longtime clients of the shelter have turned their lives around. One is holding down a job and another has made contact with her daughter’s children and has become a wonderful grandmother.

A man with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder has been in an addiction treatment program for six months and will be attending for another six months.

“Six-week programs don’t cut it,” Williams said.

An elderly man arrived at the shelter with Korsakoff Syndrome, due to excessive alcohol consumption.

“He was drinking 26 ounces of rye a day,” Burnett said.

Her staff went over and above helping him transform from being skinny and underfed to being much healthier and only drinking 150 millilitres of alcohol a day.

Eventually he was admitted into Deni House and while he was disgruntled at first, is happy now. Another man had a brain injury and couldn’t get the help he needed in Williams Lake.

“The Caribou Brain Injury Society helped place him in a group home in Kamloops and he’s doing so much better,” Williams said. “He is learning to cook and is protected in the group home.”

So often people who are homeless are taken advantage of, she explained.

On Christmas Day staff will prepare a turkey dinner and wrap up gifts for whoever is staying in the shelter.

When asked what would be a good gift suggestion, Burnett and Williams said hoodies are always popular.

“Even a bottle of conditioner and shampoo is appreciated by the women,” Burnett added.

Burnett has worked at the shelter for 17 years, loves her job and said she has terrific staff.

“Often people arrive with dead-pan eyes. If I can see a little bit of sparkle emerge in those eyes, it makes it all worth while.”

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