People experiencing homelessness in Terrace’s downtown can now get work experience through an ambassador program run through the Kermode Friendship Society (KFS).
KFS’s Friendship Ambassador program hires people facing chronic homelessness to give them 20 hours of paid work a week.
Employees are paid an hourly minimum wage to complete beautification-related jobs around the city, including shoveling sidewalks, laying gravel on icy roads, and picking up garbage.
“This way, we provide an opportunity to give people a transition period back into the workforce, get them familiar with the hours and the days, get them into a routine, teach them budgeting and try and get them work-ready,” says KFS homelessness prevention worker Eli McMillan.
Job skills training with carpentry and other industries for long-term employment, and help with resumes, cover letters and interview skills are also part of the program.
McMillan presented KFS’ employment initiative to council on March 11 asking for a letter of support. He says by providing the city’s homeless with work experience and skills, they can become more self-sufficient. Then, KFS can connect people to wrap-around services for housing, employment and treatment supports.
“We’ve had at least 25 people housed within the last year, between 16-20 people employed, and four people in college,” McMillan says. “One person was actually battling homelessness for two years, and now he’s in his second year as a social service worker. With our support, we’ve been able to help him on his journey.”
The first five weeks of the employment program were funded through a grant from Lu’ma Native Housing Society, a low-income housing program in Vancouver. Program coordinators say they have secured funds to continue the program into the next fiscal year.
Last month, three ambassador employees were out on Clinton St. helping to shovel snowy sidewalks downtown, dressed in personal protective gear provided by KFS.
Alvin Martin says he’s happy to be working in the community with a job that can move him forward in a positive way.
“You see a lot of older folks and people who can’t do their own sidewalks and it’s nice to be able to do this for them,” he says. “It feels good.”
So far the program has been very effective, McMillan says. Two of the five employees hired have other potential job prospects lined up, and there’s already a 15-person wait list for the program’s continuation.
Terrace has already seen its homeless population grow by 28 per cent over the last four years. Overall, 96 people were found homeless on the day of the study last April.
The homeless study does not account for the number of hidden homeless, such as people who couch-surf or don’t want to identify themselves as homeless.
Cal Albright, executive director for Kermode Friendship Society, says the key is to look at homeless people not as liabilities, but as contributing members of society. With the support of the ambassador program, these individuals can work to overcome their barriers and move forward.
From April 2-4, there will be a Haisla LNG conference and trade show in Kitimat that will focus on career employment and training for regional First Nations people. Albright says KFS is looking for 40 people, including Terrace’s homeless population, to attend.
“We’ll help you develop your resume, we’re going to do some job interview practicing…that’s where we’re going with this,” Albright says.
“We don’t just want to be a big band-aid in the community, there’s more to it than that. It’s all the pieces of a puzzle that we put together to help these people in a dignified and respectful way, to know that they are apart of this community too, and they’re a valuable contribution.”