Building bridges, community and inclusion
Wraparound services, like a meal, are part of the continuum in housing stability
Blair Oughton has known Jane Njogu for about two years but, since the pandemic hit, she’s played a particularly important role for him. “She’s been my life saver this past year. Jane is the one who told me where to go for this, and where to go for that. She’s been a really good help,” he says.
Jane Njogu is a homelessness prevention outreach program coordinator at the Mennonite Central Committee, a non-profit organization, where she’s worked for 10 years. The organization operates the Fraser Valley Rent Bank program and runs numerous community programs, including weekly mobile showers and dinners, as well as clothing and blanket giveaways from the organization’s thrift shop.
“We’re so grateful to never have missed a meal, even during COVID-19, which is the worst time for resources for the vulnerable to be shut down,” says Jane. “A meal is a catalyst to build relationships, and we’re building bridges, community and inclusion.”
Blair needed that support when he faced a series of challenging situations that culminated with his marriage ending this summer. “My stress level went out the window when she left. I found myself having to cover all the bills and the $1,000 rent for a basement apartment in Abbotsford,” he says.
“I fell way behind. I was close to being homeless—it was close. I had to get out of where I was living.”
In situations like these rent banks can help because their focus is on housing stability. They offer a holistic approach by providing resource connections, advocacy, financial literacy, support in accessing government subsidies, programs and/or benefits that individuals may be eligible for, and other community support services. Their objective, however, is singular: for low-to-moderate renter households to find and keep long-term housing.
With Blair, the first approach Jane took was to walk with him through his tenancy rights, followed by an attempt at mediation with the landlord. However, the best solution turned out to be a line that Jane had into a new place to live: an independent living facility, shared with five other men—and where Blair’s rehomed Shih Tzu-Jack Russell terrier, Psycho, is also welcome.
Blair received a rent bank loan that covered the first month’s $500 rent plus a $250 damage deposit.
Now that Blair is safely housed and recently reached retirement age, he’s started to dream of a move to Saskatchewan—a province he knows well from his career as a long-haul truck driver. The reason? The cost of housing is lower compared to the average rent of $1,300 a month for a one-bedroom in the Fraser Valley.
If Blair decides to make that move, he knows that his friend Jane is just a phone call away.