“A thriving community is built on the thriving of its whole community,” says Sherry Thompson, Executive Director and co-founder of Sooke Shelter Society.
Empathy and social factors both motivate her to continue the difficult work she does.
“Having lived experience myself, I understand the real struggle to find housing,” she reflects. “The right to housing is a basic human right.”
That belief is at the core of Coldest Night of the Year events in more than 190 Canadian cities –family-friendly walks that support local charities serving people experiencing hurt, hunger and homelessness.
Locally, the Sooke Shelter Society’s Coldest Night of the Year event is a three-kilometre loop walk around the Sooke core Feb. 24.
The Sooke Shelter Society aims to raise $100,000, with 50 team captains leading teams to fundraise $2,000 each. Participants who raise $75 (youth) or $150 (adults) receive a special toque. To start or join a team, visit cnoy.org/location/sooke.
Funds raised will help provide vital services, including affordable housing and shelter and outreach services to those 19 and older who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, such as food, clothing and other supports.
The society’s approach emphasizes dignity and respect and focuses on meeting immediate needs while also working toward long-term solutions.
What is the right to housing?
The Sooke Shelter Society’s main mission is to ensure people in the Greater Sooke region have access to affordable, adequate and long-term housing and the supports needed.
Adequate housing means a space that is affordable to each individual based on their income and abilities, that has the proper amenities and is safe for that individual to call a home. It’s generally defined as housing that costs no more than 30 per cent of a household’s income, including utilities and other housing-related costs.
Affordable housing ensures that those from lower-income groups can afford adequate shelter without sacrificing other basic needs. It can take various forms, including subsidized housing, rent-controlled apartments and low-cost housing developments. Housing availability is crucial for maintaining the social and economic health of communities.
“The right to housing also means approaching people with compassion, empathy and understanding, treating all with dignity, respect, fairness and equality,” Thompson says.
A shelter that has come a long way
From operating a shelter to ongoing facility renovations, the society has made remarkable progress.
“We’ve come a long way, and I’m proud of the work we have accomplished,” Thompson reflects. “It took a community to build what we have, the work that they do is fundamental.”
The community comes together during colder months, bringing jackets and gloves, for example, or stopping by with food and basic survival supplies.
“It really shows the kindness and generosity of our community,” she says. “That really warms my heart – one member even recently donated $5,000. People are extremely generous, and it gives me hope.”
Annually, the Sooke Shelter Society assists around 162 individuals, providing financial assistance, counselling and opportunities for stable housing. “It’s not just about providing shelter. It’s about empowering individuals toward a stable and secure future,” Thompson says.
A day in the life at the shelter
The Sooke shelter’s daily operations vary greatly, from providing a listening ear to emergency care.
“Our support workers are there for our residents, offering referrals and ensuring they feel safe, warm and fed,” Thompson explains. The society has also successfully managed emergency responses, such as during extreme weather conditions, thanks to partnerships with local organizations like the Sooke Fire Dept, Sooke RCMP, District of Sooke, Sooke ambulance, and BC Housing.
Despite their successes, challenges remain, particularly in addressing complex needs like substance use and mental health.
“Financial stability is sometimes insecure, but our dream is for everyone in our community to have a safe, stable home,” Thompson says, pointing to the goal of ‘functional zero’ – a state where homelessness is rare and brief as long as there’s enough affordable housing and services this strategy will be successful. In that scenario, shelter beds are a temporary solution to finding permanent stable housing.
Functional zero is “about evolving with the community’s needs and maintaining a fluid approach to homelessness,” Thompson says.
“Housing is a solvable issue, we should strive to prevent homelessness whenever possible,” she says.
The society’s funding, primarily through B.C. Housing and other provincial and federal programs have been crucial. However, community donations play a significant role. “The generosity of our community, whether through donations or our Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser, helps us raise awareness and feed vulnerable people in our community,” Thompson says.