Samaritan House Ministries got a surprise shoutout from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday, alongside funding to operate the Safe and Warm Shelter during the daytime.
During his daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic outside Rideau Cottage, Trudeau praised Samaritan House for the downtown organization’s work.
"If you’re helping others, we’re standing with you. Like with the Samaritan House in Brandon, Manitoba, that on Wednesday was able to open and deal with COVID-19 thanks to new funding," Trudeau said. "They were worried because their clients had nowhere to go since everything else closed. But now, with the new support, they can stagger entry to 10 people at a time, extend hours and stock up the food bank."
Heather Bolech, the team lead for the Safe and Warm Shelter, said the $15,000 in federal funding means the shelter will be able to open from noon to 4 p.m. until the end of April.
She said that will give people experiencing homelessness a place to rest during the day while so many other places are shut down or enforcing social distancing. Helping Hands Centre of Brandon is still operating at lunchtime, but not allowing people to eat their meals in the building.
"There’s no place for people to be in the afternoon and just have some respite, just have a cup of coffee and just sit down and just rest for a bit, so we decided we can open up for those few hours to give people that opportunity," she said.
Samaritan House is also implementing social distancing in its programs and working with the province on best cleanliness practices.
Hearing the compliment from the prime minister felt "really great," Bolech said, and it helps shine a light on the community efforts happening in Brandon.
"People have been amazing with offering their support to Samaritan House and to the different programs. Their community response has been ‘What can we do to help?’" she said.
"People truly are wanting to help … it was exciting for us to know that smaller centres like ours are being recognized for the community support that is involved in helping folks that are vulnerable in these times."
Bolech said she has a friend who works in the Privy Council Office, who told other co-workers about the request Samaritan House had made. That made its way up the chain of communication to Trudeau’s staff, who decided to put the soundbite in his daily speech.
"We are building a moat around our vulnerable people. We are doing our best to keep them safe. It is very difficult to know what to do when told to self-isolate and you are experiencing homelessness. We hear that, we see the true worry … so we are doing our best to wrap services around them and meet them where they’re at," she said.
Samaritan House board chair David Simard said the food bank is still looking for donations to help fill hampers for people in need. The community has stepped up in a big way, he said, but continued support is still needed during difficult times.
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