Hope Central program coordinator Carrie Prentice (far right) stands with volunteers Derek Perrault and Jean Storms at the drop-in centre.

Hope Central emerges as drop-in centre

New Heights Church fills gap left by Union Gospel Mission last year.

A Mission pastor is at the heart of a growing effort to meet the needs of the city’s most vulnerable at one centralized spot. Hope Central now provides 12 meals per week and organizers of the make-shift program have big plans for the future.

“We started about 14 years ago as a church hauling wagons up and downs the alleys in Mission to people who didn’t have food,” said Greg Elford, pastor with New Heights Church located at Hope Central.

New Heights became increasingly more involved after meeting people in need. It partnered with the Union Gospel Mission to provide three or four weekly meals and a drop-in program.

When Union Gospel closed its drop-in in Aug. 2012 after more than two decades in operation, Elford saw a void in the community.

“We noticed that the Union Gospel had really been a vital part of sustaining food for many people,” said Elford.

He called on agencies, churches, community members, the city, and the RCMP for a meeting to analyze the gaps and brainstorm a solution.

New Heights emerged as a natural place to re-open a drop-in and meal program.

But Elford didn’t just resume where Union Gospel left off. He has greatly expanded support, and Hope Central (at 33129 North Railway Ave.) now provides six cooked breakfasts and six suppers each week year-round.

The church hired a coordinator, Carrie Prentice, and has Hope Central on a three-stage plan: relief, rehabilitation, and development.

Relief was this first year of providing those in need with meals and basic supplies, such as toiletries. About 13 churches are represented in volunteers, and different businesses in town from homegrown bakeries to large big box stores donate food to feed 40–60 people per sitting. Funding is through private donations and grants.

The next stage is rehabilitation, which Hope Central is just starting. Elford, Prentice, and dozens of volunteers are opening the centre as a drop-in starting in January.

“A lot of people use the facility as their home base…We’re offering community as well as food and a warm place to be,” said Elford.

People will be welcomed to hang out, relax, and take part in services that can move them ahead.

“Because we have such a consistent clientele, or participants as we call them, we figured there’s an opportunity to introduce the people we have credibility with to services that can actually help them make some progress in their lives,” said Elford. “Our hope is to invite all the different agencies in the city that work with people on the street, or could work with them, but have no access to them, to come and be part of our drop-in program.”

Elford is in talks with different agencies to provide advocacy work, lifeskills, literacy, budgeting, computer access, haircutting services, and cooking classes. One agency might also provide care for people’s feet; as Elford explained, the homeless spend long days outside in the rain, and their feet are often in sore shape.

Elford wants to see businesses and service groups working alongside community agencies at Hope Central to help people improve their lives.

“One of our big goals is breaking down barriers between people in the community,” said Elford.

Always thinking about how to move people out of poverty permanently, Hope Central has started a unique strategy to foster a sense of ownership among its visitors. People who use services are invited to participate in the maintenance of the place – sweep the floor, clean the bathroom – in exchange for a ballot in a draw to win a monthly gift card.

Hope Central has placed a large paper tree on the wall, with volunteers and participants tracing their hands on opposite sides. Organizers measure success by how many participants end up also tracing their hands as volunteers.

Hope Central is hosting a Christmas dinner starting at 2 p.m. on Dec. 25 at All Saints Anglican Church (33077 2 Ave, Mission). Embers BBQ House is providing food for the 100 or so expected guests, with help from 50 volunteers.

For more information, people are welcome to drop in to Hope Central, or contact Carrie Prentice at missionhopecentral@gmail.com.

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