Langley's homeless and the people who help them came together Thursday for the Homelessness Action Week Connect Event.
Social service agencies, charities, government ministries, and private companies gathered at St. Joseph's Church on Fraser Highway to meet with each other and some of the people most in need.
This is the second year the event has been held, timed to coincide with Homelessness Action Week, said Fraser Holland.
Holland, an outreach worker for Stepping Stone Community Services Society and chair of the Langley Homelessness Steering Committee, said this is also a time of year when the need for housing gets more urgent for many. The first frost of the year, or the first heavy rainfall, convinces some people they need to get inside for the winter.
There are more options than there were a decade ago, and an event like this one is designed to help teach people what's out there.
Holland met with people from a local church who were there to get a better handle on where they can refer people.
The personal contacts make it easier to get people help. Many who are on the streets, or in danger of falling into homelessness, have been messed around by the system. It can be frustrating navigating the bureaucracy, Holland said.
It also gave immediate practical help to people, with free hearing tests, appointments for free eye exams, haircuts, flu shots, health surveys, and a giveaway of free, new clothing donated by a local merchant.
Kirsten Ratcliffe is one of the people who drop by St. Joe's regularly.
She was homeless for seven years, and has now been living inside for two and a half years.
It started with help from Stepping Stone and the volunteers at St. Joe's, she said. She found her first place from a housing listing.
"The people here, they're awesome people," said Ratcliffe." "They helped me not give up," she added.
There is more support in Langley than there was when she was first homeless, Ratcliffe said.
"You also have to want to get help," she said.
She had come by St. Joe's for a hearing test Thursday.
One of those reaching out to people was Sue Noble, with the Langley Community Services Society.
A drug and alcohol addiction counsellor, she's seen people on the long, slow slope towards homelessness.
"It's not something that happens over night," she said. Putting supports in place would prevent people from dropping off that precipice into full homelessness, she believes.
"We need more treatment centres in Langley," Noble said. She also does counselling of the loved ones of addicts.
"We're always trying to reduce the stigma," she said.
Jessica Huizing of Crystal Vision and Hearing Centre was helping set people up for hearing tests.
"It's not a first priority for them, but it's something that can greatly benefit them," said Huizing.
If there is hearing loss, the provincial government may pay for a hearing aid.
Although this is the second annual event, there was also a senior-focused event with similar groups held in the spring.
Holland noted that after this, much local work with those living on the streets will focus on the cold.
Cold and wet weather emergency shelter alerts can start as early as Nov. 1, with the Salvation Army's Gateway of Hope Shelter opening extra spaces during downpours and cold snaps.
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