Mustard Seed’s Gathering Place set up should be complete by the weekend

Homeless day space opens

The Mustard Seed’s day space for the homeless population is expected to be fully operational by the end of the day Friday — and the hope is it will be a more inviting spot than last year.

For the fourth summer in a row, the temporary day space located in a city-owned parking lot next to 48 West Victoria St. will offer an outdoor shelter where people can escape the elements, sleep, receive food and access clean water. At the shelter people can also be connected to various support services in town via Mustard Seed staff.

Mustard Seed director of operations Nyasha Manyanye told Castanet Kamloops that, new this year, they will add artificial grass and picnic tables under their tents to mitigate the heat from the parking lot.

“Last year, a lot of people didn't really want to come inside because it was really hot just to come to sit under the tents when you have asphalt, it was not really helping at all, so this time around, we're working with the city just to get some artificial grass put in,” Manyanye said.

He said they also intend to have more misters running than last year to help people stay cool, as well as a cell phone charging station with WiFi access.

Last year, Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson said he noticed many people gathered on the grassy area and picnic tables outside the BCLC building across from The Gathering Place and not as many at the outdoor facility.

Manyanye said he shares those concerns and that is why this year they are trying to attract more people to The Gathering Place by making it a more inviting spot through features such as the cell phone station, and picnic tables with artificial grass.

“What we are trying to achieve this year is to make sure we have more people coming inside, so this place really needs to be more inviting than what it was last year,” Manyanye said.

High demand not expected from day space closures

The day space comes online as two others are closing — The Loop drop-in centre on the North Shore is being evicted by a new landlord while Manyanye’s Mustard Seed is closing its dayroom on West Victoria Street to the general public effective the end of July.

Despite the closures, Manyanye said he doesn’t think they will add much of an increased demand on The Gathering Place as most of the people using the Mustard Seed dayroom are clients. While he expects to see more homeless individuals living on the North Shore attend the gathering Place, he finds they don’t tend to frequent the downtown too often.

“I don't think it's going to be a huge increase,” Manyanye said, adding he feels it will still fill a gap in service this year.

“Especially, considering what's happening on the North Shore and our dayroom closing, I think this is going to be a good transition,” he said. “We’re still going to be serving meals there, we are going to provide most of the services that we were providing in the day room at The Gathering Place. So I think it's just going to be a continuation of what we've been doing in the dayroom just at a different location.”

Manyanye said The Gathering Place during its peak operating months of June through August typically sees 50 to 60 unique individuals drop by.

He said it’s difficult to say how many more people may access The Gathering Place this year as weather can cause fluctuations as well. He said on days the weather is fair, more people tend to camp along the riverbank while during smoky conditions or rain more people seek out The Gathering Place.

No drug use allowed

Manyanye said the typical clientele of The Gathering Place are those not welcome in shelters, and who do not wish to be linked with a housing system.

“There are some individuals that we know for sure, that are living on the streets, who are suspended from shelters or from different services that they would really like to access. So this is going to be their last resource,” he said.

Manyanye said open drug use, alcohol and weapons will not be permitted at the site, and those looking for a space to use their drugs safely will be referred to the substance use clinic about a block away.

“We are going to allow individuals to come — even though they're intoxicated or high — as long as the behaviours are manageable, as long as their behaviours are not going to be a safety issue to other clients or to the employees,” Manyanye said.

Open four days a week

The day space, which opened in April last year, was delayed in setting up this week due to rain and windy conditions, but Manyanye expects they will be done setting up all the infrastructure by the end of the day on Friday.

He said the Gathering Place has still hosted visitors on site via a soft opening since Wednesday.

The site will be open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until the end of September.

The City of Kamloops provides the space for the Gathering Place to operate, while funding for the Mustard Seed-run day space is provided through the federal Reaching Home: Canada’s Plan to End Homelessness grant.

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