If you are wondering what it is like to work with the homeless community in Steinbach, Myra Gerbrandt of Steinbach Community Outreach (SCO) offers some insight. 

The drop-in centre director says they serve 500 families, and not everyone is homeless. 

Gerbrandt says it is worth getting to know each guest, including those who don’t have a home. 

“We care about them, and we love them, and we know them, and we want to be part of their lives,” she says. “We want to make sure that they're safe and okay, in the best way that we can. That doesn't seem like enough most of the time, and it probably isn't, but it's a little bit, and hopefully it's a little bit of love in a dark place for them.”

A tent covered with blankets, surrounded by snow.The winter months are especially tough for people without proper shelter, and Myra Gerbrandt says people do the best they can to stay warm. (Photo submitted)

Gerbrandt recalls her first encounter with someone who appeared to be homeless. This was before she joined SCO. She approached a man who appeared homeless, started up a conversation, which led to offering him some food. 

“When he told me his name, I actually recognized him as a person that I had worked at a daycare with when he was a little boy,” she says. “And it just struck me that this homeless guy who had just got out of jail and was just so rough around the edges and kind of scary, had been a little boy and is someone's son. And it was never his intention to turn out like this, but through whatever series of circumstances and events... You know it just put a human face on to someone, that this is someone that just needs to be loved and cared for. 

“So, what can I do to love and care for the vulnerable and the hurting and, even if they are a little bit scary and rough around the edges? That helps me to not be quite so scared. And I've had to come back to that story a lot of times when someone does come into Outreach that puts me on edge and I'm a little bit nervous, I don't know how they're going to respond, to use caution, yes. But also, to remember that they have a story that's actually quite heartbreaking and they were a little boy or girl at one time who never dreamed that this would be their life. So that has helped me put things into perspective.”

A man is sleeping while sitting on a chair indoors.Steinbach Community Outreach is a safe place for people to warm up and get some rest. (Photo submitted)

SCO operates with only 1 full-time paid staff and 2 part-time paid staff, and with the help of 90 volunteers, they can offer a lot of support to people who are facing difficulty with housing. 

Gerbrandt says people find it an eye-opening experience to volunteer at Outreach. 

“The needs in our community are huge and you don't really see those needs until you're in it, right? And so, I think there's a lot of surprise at the amount of need that there is.” 

There are advocates at SCO who are there specifically to support people through housing challenges, including eviction, running into financial difficulties, not being able to pay their rent, and applying for financial assistance. 

“There are so many obstacles that our guests, our vulnerable people in our community, run up against,” says Gerbrandt. “They can come to outreach, hook up with one of our advocates who will work one-on-one with them to just kind of guide them through some of these processes and walk alongside of them.” 

A man is smiling while lying on a bare mattress outside Steinbach Community Outreach.When someone finds a place to live, there is often a need for furnishings such as beds. (Photo submitted)

Many volunteers are needed to support the food program at SCO, cooking and baking, so they can offer hungry guests something to eat. They also offer food that people can take with them. 

“People walk in to Outreach generally because they know we have food available,” she says. “So, we hand out frozen casseroles and soups and that's sort of our main draw of our program. And in order to keep that sustainable, we need a bunch of cooks." 

There are 35 volunteers who support the drop-in centre which operates Monday to Friday from 9:30am-3:30pm, where they offer coffee and snacks, as well as conversation. 

While most of their work takes place inside their location at 345 Loewen Boulevard, Gerbrandt notes they will sometimes hit the streets. 

“So that is not the mandate of Outreach. However, we know where our homeless friends are, and we do go out to their places, if they're staying in a tent or in a car. We track them and occasionally we'll just go out. If we haven't seen them around for a while, we'll go to where we think they are. We'll try and find them, and maybe give them some food and just check in with them and see how they're doing.” 

Gerbrandt says they do whatever they can to support all the guests and friends of SCO, and all our vulnerable people in our community. 

She emphasizes that none of their work is possible without the strong support from their volunteers and the entire community.


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“We run off volunteers, but also off the community’s generosity. So, everything that we do is based off of donations that we get. Your money, your financial donations, will go to things like the hygiene products that we hand out, like toilet paper, soaps and shampoos and that kind of thing. 

A lot of the money is used to support the work done by their advocates. 

“So, whether that be paying for getting new ID or paying for a down payment for their rent so that they're not going to be homeless next month, or things like that. It goes directly to the person in need. So, your money is well spent.”

For more information on volunteering at Steinbach Community Outreach, making donations, or to access support, contact their office through email at ​steinbachoutreach@gmail.com or by calling ​204-380-2692.


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