American sociologist Matthew Desmond said that housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. These days, homelessness and affordable housing are very much front and centre as the most challenging social issue we face. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t affected or connected to a person who struggles in some way with this problem. There are many organizations who tirelessly work head on to provide shelter for those who are dealing with the hardship of homelessness and its demoralizing effects. Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness is such a non-profit, operating right here in the Comox Valley.
Since 2009 Dawn to Dawn has sought and instituted solutions to our local homelessness challenges. One of those solutions was the creation of the Care-A-Van, a mobile outreach health unit now operated by the Comox Bay Care Society. The other is a subsidized housing program known as a scattered housing model. Dawn to Dawn finds and negotiates agreements with landlords who have available rental housing, and effectively takes responsibility for that tenancy. They currently provide transitional housing for 42 people including 14 children. Most of their clients are on income assistance which provides $375 a month for shelter; less than half the market rate for a one bedroom suite. There’s a clear discrepancy between rental costs and the income of their clients, and Dawn to Dawn provides the difference so that person can have a roof over their head, have help accessing services, and have a general sense of relative security.
Shilling, the organization’s only employee, is engaged closely with his clients and their challenges on the street. He is an advocate while helping connect them to beneficial services related to mental health, addiction, welfare, employment, and education. “Unfortunately, I can’t help everyone but I can offer hope and friendship.” Personally, he enjoys the freedom of not being tied to an office. “You can’t do outreach from behind a desk,” he says.
For several years Dawn to Dawn has organized recreational activities for people involved with the street, include bowling, fitness, skiing, and snowboarding, as well as the Maple Pool United Street Soccer Team. The opportunity to get a physical and emotional lift with a group who can relate to the issues they face can help people gain a sense of community, be physically active, and have a great deal of fun in the process. In 2015, the team went to Hamilton, Ontario during the Pan American Games to compete against other homeless/street soccer teams from across Canada. “Despite our huge population disadvantage,” says Shilling, who acts as the team’s coach, “we can proudly say we made it to the semi finals.”
Bob Galligan spent 11 years homeless in the Comox Valley before he was able to connect with Dawn to Dawn, which he says saved his life. For Galligan, post traumatic stress led to all kinds of associated struggles. After a major health crisis, he came to the realization that if he wanted to be a grandfather to his grandchildren he was going to have to get off the street. With Dawn to Dawn’s help he’s been living in his own apartment for 6 years and works in landscaping.
In his face you can see the strength and resilience as well as the weathered lines of someone who has survived a lifetime of hardship. “Don’t give up,” he says to people living on the street or in other precarious situations. “Keep your hopes up. Change will come. There are so many people and businesses in the community who want to help and are helping. We just need the will of the politicians to change.”
Through hard work and a willingness to listen, Dawn to Dawn is helping an often overlooked segment of the population gain the means to flourish.
To learn more or to make a donation, please visit www.dawntodawn.org