People sometimes couch-surf at Melvin Henry’s place, just to have somewhere to stay for the night.
What a turn-around.
Henry, 56, remembers when all he needed was a couch for the night. These days he’s settling in nicely to his own cosy little apartment in downtown Chilliwack.
“I needed somewhere I could do my bead work,” Henry explains.
He secured housing through Xolhemet Society’s Homeless Prevention Program a few months ago. The HPP is set up to help people to change their lives, and get off the streets when they’re ready to do so.
“I first heard about it from my probation officer,” Henry says.
He’s lived in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, as well as in Chilliwack, and he’s originally from Kwaw-kwaw-apilt First Nation.
Years of living on and off the streets can take a toll on a person.
He’s seen a lot.
“I’ve been street smart for a long time, since I was about eight,” he says.
The program helps street people and those at risk of being homeless with the nitty-gritty of housing: dealing with landlords, damage deposits and rental subsidies. HPP operates in partnership with BC Housing and the Aboriginal Housing Management Assistance, for those living off-reserve, or those planning to move off-reserve.
Henry has been doing some landscaping work and mowing lawns. He also makes a point of keeping the his apartment very tidy.
“It’s a real problem to do that when you’re out on the streets. But when I have my own place, I do keep it nice,” he says.
He likes to work on his art while sitting at the compact kitchen table, with the natural light pouring through the window.
His cultural roots are clearly important to him, and he’s reclaiming them.
His artwork adorns the walls. Some of his designs are in the traditional black and red Coast Salish style.
“I used to sell my pictures at Five Corners,” he says, adding that he learned how to carve while he was in the penitentiary.
The best part of having an apartment, he adds, is when his great nieces and nephews come for a visit. He’s chuffed to offer up a safe and clean space for them.
“I’m not saying I’m perfect, but things are a lot better,” he says.
Everything is still a bit of an adjustment, but he’s so far managing to stay clean from the hard drugs, and keep everything on track.
“I’m not an angel, and I do still feel like being outside sometimes, but it is comfortable here,” he says.
Program coordinators ask that HPP clients keep in close and regular contact, and Henry has done that. He’s also managed to keep his sense of humour and a glimmer of optimism.
Xolhemet staff are proud of how the HPP program is working out — and the progress Henry has made.
“He’s doing amazing,” says Nikki Warawa, outreach worker.
They can’t help but chart his achievements, as he completes more bead work or furnishes his little apartment, piece by piece.
The program has specific target groups such as aboriginal people, those getting out of jail or the hospital, woman fleeing violence and youth.
Another 20 per cent can fall into a more general category.
“The goal is to prevent homelessness for everyone,” said Kathleen Mosa, executive director of Xolhemet Society.
In early 2015, Xolhemet partnered with BC Housing and AHMA to operate the Homeless Prevention Program in Chilliwack, and they’ve seen great strides since it started. Xolhemet also runs a women’s shelter, Wilma’s Transition House, and a second stage housing program.
In the first two months they housed 23 singles and families, and that number is at an impressive 100 people now.
For more info on HPP call Xolhemet Society at 604-824-0939.