Campbell River City Council got an update from the leaders of the new Hama?Elas Community Kitchen and Kwesa Place at its most recent council meeting where they highlighted what’s been happening over the few months they’ve been open and what the plans are going forward.
Both spaces are located in the Harbourside Inn downtown and operated by the Laichwiltach Family Life Society. Hama?Elas prepares plated dinners for anyone who wants one seven days per week in a “restaurant-style” setting, as well as breakfast on Wednesdays and lunch on the weekends while Kwesa Place is a space for people to get out of the cold, have a shower if they need one, grab a cup of coffee and just come together without being judged.
Volunteer leader Ian Baikie told council that Hama?Elas has over 80 members of the community volunteering to help what it is they’re doing down there.
“I’ve been shocked during my involvement with this process at the number of volunteers who come through those doors to help,” Baikie says. “One of the things I’ve been taking away from this is that the people using these services are not who we necessarily think of as homeless people … but rather a lot of other food insecure people: people on fixed income, mentally and physically disabled individuals and people with other unique challenges in terms of food insecurity.”
Audrey Wilson told council that the addition of Kwesa Place to the offerings at Hama?Elas has been an additional benefit.
“We started at three days a week and soon moved to five days a week,” Wilson says. “The idea behind it was for people to be able to access showers and laundry facilities which allows people to be healthier and more stable, and support people through their process of whatever they’re going through, whether they’re looking for housing or services we can direct them to.”
Wilson says her staff members at Kwesa Place have “a variety of skills around addictions,” to help people who are struggling with substance issues, as well.
“Some of them have been on the street themselves,” she says. “It’s a safe place for people to come, not just to wash their clothes and have a shower, but also just a warm place for them to come into. For the past few weeks it’s been really cold.”
Council followed the presentation by asking questions about the future of the two spaces, as they have been hearing concerns from the surrounding business community and their funding for the current pilot project was set to run out at the end of March.
“I have absolutely no doubt that your hearts are in the right place,” says Coun. Ron Kerr, “but certainly from my perspective, it’s obvious that the facility isn’t in the right place.”
The current location, as Wilson said during her presentation, “was never intended to be a permanent location. It was just a place that we found when it was needed at the time. Ideally we’ll be looking at other areas in the community, but those are few and far between in terms of spaces that we would need to provide this service.”
Baikie says the money they received from the Campbell River Foundation and the United Way to run through March has been increased to allow them to operate for another six months, so they are now funded until the end of September.
Between now and then, Baikie says, they want to prove the volunteer-driven model they’re creating is sustainable long term and look for a place to build a purpose-built facility to run it out of.