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Squamish's Street Reach reaches more locals

The downtown mobile care team has come a long way and aims to expand its reach further.
Street Reach
Jonathan Hand, Squamish Helping Hands project manager of the mobile care team, catches up with a local outside Under One Roof.

If you see them around, say hello. 

More than 40 Squamish Helping Hands Street Reach volunteers — clad in matching t-shirts — have been walking around downtown meeting people and seeking out those in need of assistance. 

The mobile care team, which operates out of Under One Roof, started in February with just a few volunteers, but has grown substantially. 

"I think five or six volunteers right off the get-go — people who were involved here at the building, in one way or another," said Jonathan Hand, Squamish Helping Hands project manager of the mobile care team.

To drum up more volunteers, Hand and his coworkers set up pop-up events at different locations around town. They went to the Street Market, for example, and explained what they were doing and why.

That helped get more folks involved, Hand said. 

The team spreads out throughout the downtown and talks to folks. They hand out resources — water on a hot day or harm-reduction supplies, for example, and are a friendly ear for whomever they encounter.  

"Talking about being lonely, talking about being fed up, talking about whatever it is," he said, adding sometimes it is just running into someone and catching up about life in general.

The idea of the team is to build more of a sense of community, Hand reiterated. 

"That's one of the outcomes in and of itself, really, that we're aiming for — it's just for people to get to know each other,” he said. 

"Because that creates a little bit of safety. And that creates a little bit of connection that helps. And through that...if there is an opportunity to de-escalate something, or help somebody or talk to somebody who's having a hard day, it just really helps to know them a little bit." 

Sometimes, the volunteers will sit and chat for an hour with someone who may just need to share or vent. 

Hand stressed while the team members can point folks in the direction of resources and hand out some supplies, they aren't actively engaging with locals as a transaction or to proselytize. 

They are more "ambassadors for compassion."

Before they first head out on a shift, Street Reach volunteers have an orientation and receive free first aid training, including how to use a Naloxone kit in case they encounter someone suffering from a toxic drug poisoning.

What it is like for volunteers

Street Reach volunteers hit the pavement Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for three-hour shifts. 

Each session starts with a check-in — how everyone is doing, what they feel comfortable doing during their shift, and the collective skillset of the team, such as determining if there is someone with medical training. 

"We kind of walk around...[Under One Roof] and just in the immediate vicinity, and then we'll walk up through Stan Clarke Park and through Junction Park and over by Loggers Lane in the park over there and just see if anybody's there that we know and see how they're doing. Talk to them for a while — we have lots of laughs, too," he said.

Halfway through the shift, there is a break for a drink or a cup of tea back at Under One Roof, and then they repeat the loop.

Some volunteers work several shifts, while others come one day per month. 

"I feel like each time we're out there, we're familiar faces to the neighbourhood," he said. 

So far, the volunteers have been able to form bonds, and build some inter-agency collaborations, such as with the police. 

"There's been a few times where — and this is something that we wanted to achieve when we started — insofar as helping out the police responding to things that aren't emergencies and that aren't crimes," he said. 

He recalled a situation where a person was quite loud and distraught. A few of the volunteers were talking to the man before the police arrived and could find out what the issues were for this individual.

The situation de-escalated and after officers checked in, they left. 

Street Reach volunteers also liaise with bylaw officers, he said

"That's been really good. And…that takes time to get there. But that's been really positive.

How it is going

Hand said the feedback from some downtown neighbours has been positive, noting he has gotten a few calls to say that the energy in the area has been more relaxed since they have been around. 

Hand said while outreach has been progressing with unhoused folks and residents of Under One Roof, he would like the Street Reach team to connect more with residents who live in the immediate area. 

"I'd like to get to know some more people who live around and make sure that they know that we're here and what we do," he said. "We're thinking about trying to have a little forum or question-answer type of dialogue."

He said that having more of a relationship with and between people downtown allows for exchanges of ideas and more compassion all around. 

Street Reach is welcoming more volunteers. 

"We're looking for as many people as possible, because the bigger that network grows, the better and more people train, the more people meeting each other and connecting with each other, the more people that help us actually do better as a team too," he said, noting current volunteers run the gamut in terms of their backgrounds, professions and interests. 

Street Reach is a project of Squamish's Community Resilience Committee and is funded by a Strengthening Communities Grant.

Find out more about Street Reach and volunteering on the Squamish Helping Hands website or email hand at [email protected]. 

Got a skill or hobby to share?

Volunteering for Street Reach is just one way to become involved with the goings on at Under One Roof. 

Hand said he is accepting expressions of interest from anyone who would like to share their wisdom with Under One Roof residents. 

For example, if you can show folks how to do bike maintenance for an hour, or how to sew something, build a birdhouse or play the guitar; if you would like to teach dance or yoga, share what you know about business or painting — whatever your skillset is, if you want to share it, Hand would like to hear from you. 

"Let's build more connection[s] in the neighbourhood. Let's help people meet each other, share experiences together, get to know each other a little bit," he said.  

He said he has some temporary resources that could be put toward supplies for those who come to share.

Those interested are invited to fill out an Expression of Interest form. 

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