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Dawn to Dawn refocusing on helping Comox Valley homeless with housing

DAWN TO DAWN board chair Michael Bergob is pictured at the Community Garden at Sixth and Harmston. - Scott Stanfield
DAWN TO DAWN board chair Michael Bergob is pictured at the Community Garden at Sixth and Harmston.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

The Comox Bay Care Society has taken over operation of the Care-A-Van, a mobile medical unit that had operated under the umbrella of the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society since 2009.
The switchover has enabled Dawn to Dawn to renew focus on its mandate of helping the homeless move towards better lives through housing. The society has housed more than 50 people since the inception of its residential program — in keeping with the Housing First concept of providing homeless people with housing and then providing additional services as needed.
"It's a continual intake, outtake," Dawn to Dawn board chair Michael Bergob said in an interview. "We've had a few bumps in the road but we're learning from those."
At present, Dawn to Dawn houses 13 adults and two children. It is in the process of opening a pair of single-resident occupancy units (SROs), which present opportunities for individuals looking to make a "more focused transition in their lives," Bergob said, noting Dawn to Dawn utilizes market housing.
"One of the things that we're very proud of is that we do have a number of landlords who approach us because they recognize the effectiveness, the efficiency of our program. That we are the tenant."
Along with providing roofs over heads, Dawn to Dawn is undertaking new programs and projects that complement the residential program. The Community Garden, for instance, started April 1 at the corner of Sixth and Harmston in Courtenay, with the support of a Home Depot Canada Foundation grant and donations of dirt from a number of people. The City donated the site, which will yield carrots, onions, lettuce and other vegetables. The garden includes a space to grow corn, beans and squash, otherwise known as the Three Sisters.
Excess vegetables will be donated to the Sonshine Lunch Club that operates at St. George's United Church.
"It's a benefit to the homeless, too," Bergob said. "It gives us a place where they can come and do some work and participate. It's really, really great to see. There's a lot of good things happening with that garden."
About 20 people turned out Sunday to the society's first community potluck feast at the garden, which included a welcoming ceremony from Wes Gietz, known as Windwalker.
"I got to eat a radish," Bergob said with a laugh.
In terms of sports, Dawn to Dawn operates bowling and street soccer programs. The latter, to run Tuesdays at the Maple Pool Campground and RV Park, offers street people an opportunity to become involved in recreational activities and to re-develop social skills. The team will be known as Maple Pool United. Hopefully, one of the players will compete for Canada at the World Cup of Street Soccer in Mexico.
The society is looking for soccer players, coaches, and donations of equipment, money or food.
"It's another opportunity for sharing," Bergob said, noting the need for healthy food.  
The society also operates an RV program that is housing street people, mostly at Maple Pool. It started with a call for used RVs in exchange for a tax receipt for the appraised value of a unit.
"I was expecting maybe one or two," said Dawn to Dawn board member Tom Grant, who instigated the RV program. "I think, at last count, we're up to nine. It's overwhelming."
Members of the Comox Rotary Club cleaned the units, fixed broken water lines, installed new propane tanks and fixed flat tires. Most of the RVs replaced rotten units at Maple Pool.
"They all went to house homeless people," Grant said. "I guess the most notorious one we housed was Bob the Bum. He was difficult to house but he is still in his trailer. He loves it.
"It's been a real success story," Grant said of the program. "It is taking people off the street and out of the bushes. It's not a permanent solution because of course these trailers deteriorate. But until such time that we start building some transitional housing in this community, it's certainly a temporary solution to a humongous problem."
The RV program has been nominated for a Rotary Foundation award that recognizes innovative solutions to major social problems. It was selected from all Rotary clubs on Vancouver Island and the West Coast of the U.S. to Portland, Ore.
"Our district governor submitted this to Rotary International," Grant said. "We're going to be up against some pretty stiff competition from all over the world, but it's still pretty good recognition."
Donations are welcomed to assist Dawn to Dawn programs. Contact Mike Stewart or send cheques to:
Dawn to Dawn, Unit 6C-821 Shamrock Pl., Comox, B.C. V9M 3P6.
For more information visit www.dawntodawn.org.
reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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