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The Mission, 36 Years and Counting

Since 1987, Siloam Mission has worked with some of the most vulnerable people in Winnipeg. Founded by ex-inmate and congregation member Suk Woon Lee, Siloam Mission was established as a ministry in the inner city that offered food and counselling to those experiencing financial challenges and homelessness. 

Since then, Siloam has helped thousands of Winnipeggers in need. It has also expanded its operations substantially. Today, Siloam has nearly 200 employees working in about a dozen programs and services, helping hundreds of people daily. 

“I would say we serve well over 500 individuals each day, 365 days a year, and likely much more than that,” said Luke Thiessen, communications specialist for Siloam mission. 

“Through our Drop-In, we serve three meals a day, and around 400-500 people per meal. Most of those individuals will come for more than one meal a day, and many are also using our other services like the overnight shelter, although not all. And we have about 80 residents at our supportive housing facility in Wolseley, called the Madison, who are not counted in our other numbers.” 

The Madison, acquired by Siloam in April 2011, assists people with “physical or cognitive disabilities or struggle with mental health illnesses” to prevent those at risk from experiencing homelessness. The shelter provides three meals daily and access to laundry services and internet. New residents are connected to a social worker who establishes a specific plan that fits the needs of each client. 

Under their “Building Futures” umbrella, Siloam offers several programs. In 2006, Siloam started training programs to help clients enter the workforce. A temporary work program called MOST (Mission Off the Street Team) allows participants seeking work the opportunity to acquire experience on a neighbourhood clean-up crew, which can then be used on a resume. This and other basic jobs create connections to supervisors who can be used as references on job applications. 

Another area where people are given an employment opportunity is through the Siloam Laundry Services, which hires individuals staying on a term basis in a Siloam emergency shelter. Employees will do laundry for external contracts and the shelter itself. 

“It is a real job with set hours and a guaranteed income, which allows participants to gain experience, save up money, and more easily apply for and secure housing,” Thiessen explained. 

“The Building Futures program also offers other training opportunities and works with all participants to become employment ready and work on their goals and skills for entering the workforce.” 

At Siloam Mission is a team called Transition Services. Primarily made up of registered social workers, Transition Services assists clients in their search for permanent housing and offers assistance navigating social services. Staff will work with clients to find appropriate medical care, addiction services, legal assistance in addition to helping clients navigate governmental systems. 

Another program run by Siloam Mission is called Hannah’s Place. Named for Hannah Taylor, founder of the Ladybug Foundation, Hannah’s Place was opened as an emergency shelter for those experiencing homelessness. Hannah’s Place has a capacity of 110, but Siloam’s emergency shelters have expanded to 143 beds overall, which are typically filled every night. The purpose is to give short-term shelter and social assistance to anyone experiencing homelessness. Social assistance aims to help people take the necessary steps toward being permanently housed and establishing independence. Programs through Siloam also strive to help individuals secure employment.  

A new project at Siloam is an online Art Store. Beginning August 24th, Siloam Mission has begun an online project that allows artists who use their services to sell their work online. 

According to the art programs website, the program “reinforces positive social connections and offers important reconnection to indigenous teachings and Indigenous methods of learning.” 

“Many studies offer strong evidence on the link between art and improved health benefits,” Christine Vanagas, Director of Community Wellness for Siloam, explains in a post on the site.  

“Art creation is known to soothe the nervous system and improve how one is able to respond rather than react, which is critical when supporting individuals to manage stress or lessen anxiety while they are experiencing homelessness.” 

Prices for the work are determined based on time spent and skill level. The agreed-upon price goes to the artist, while 20 per cent is added to the total to fund operational expenses of the program.  

Funding and Other Projects 

According to Thiessen, primary funding comes from private donors. 

“While the organization does receive some government funding (including all levels of government), the vast majority of our operating budget comes from individuals, businesses and family foundations.” 

The overnight shelter costs are mostly covered by government funding and parts of other program areas. Most government funding has been used for large capital projects. The Government of Manitoba announced in July it would be giving $25 million to “combat homelessness.”  

“This funding announcement included funding for Siloam Mission’s daytime drop-in as part of the effort to fund 24/7 availability of services for those experiencing homelessness.,” Thiessen explained. 

“Siloam is using this funding to expand what we’re able to do during the day, hiring more staff, including some dedicated to meeting with guests and helping them get back into housing without spending extended periods of time in our emergency shelter.”  

As for additional projects, the Mission is presently working on a major project at The Madison, a housing facility with 85 residents. The project includes fully replacing an outdated HVAC system and “significant” upgrades throughout the building to improve safety and comfort. A new Indigenous cultural space is also being constructed in the Drop-In area. The space will feature indoor and outdoor programming for indigenous culture and spirituality. 

There are long-term plans to create additional affordable and supportive housing. Specific announcements have yet to be made. 

What Can the Public Do to Help? 

Justin Thiessen said he wishes more people knew about Siloam because it is much more than a soup kitchen and homeless shelter.  

“We provide a whole host of supports and programs to help people move from homelessness to recovery, housing and more forms of independence. This includes providing clothing and hygiene items, physical and mental health supports, spiritual and cultural connections, access to technology, temporary work programs and employment support, supportive housing environments, and one-on-one case management to help people get housing and navigate the social services system.” 

As for what the public can do to help out at Siloam Mission, the key is giving. For many, this will be their time as a volunteer. In their database are thousands of volunteers who help in departments such as clothing sorting, cooking, or sitting with community members to talk over a coffee.  

“The majority [of volunteers] help in our kitchen and clothing areas, and collectively, they do the work equivalent of several dozen full-time staff.” 

If time can’t be found to be given to the Mission, money or physical goods go a long way in helping fellow community members. All of the clothes given to those utilizing Siloam are donated, and approximately 90 per cent of the food served. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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