Hope in Action

August 2020


This summer has been hard on our friends on the street. Not only has it been brutally hot, but many of the shelter programs they depend on have closed. In this issue, learn how we’ve teamed up with a close partner to provide some relief.

We’d also like to share a tribute to a special friend and volunteer, Rick Braniff, who passed away recently. Rick served Ray of Hope for 30 years. He will be deeply missed.

House of Hope offers shelter and support

Ray of Hope and House of Friendship partner to keep homeless people safe this summer

The warmth of summer can be just as hard for people living on the street as the depths of winter. Heat exhaustion, severe sunburn and thirst add extra burdens on those who are often already struggling with physical and mental health concerns, making the need for shelter just as important in July as it is in January.

But this summer, finding a safe place to stay in Kitchener-Waterloo is even harder, especially for people who find it difficult to adapt to traditional shelter programs

The pandemic forced House of Friendship to relocate the residents in its Charles St. Men’s Shelter. In addition, after the overflow shelter at St. Mark’s Church closed, the people using it had to move to a temporary program at the Kaufman YMCA. This program shut down when the Y refocused its efforts on providing childcare.

To help bridge the gap until a more permanent solution can be found, Ray of Hope and House of Friendship have joined forces to create House of Hope. In this overnight program located at the Ray of Hope Community Centre (ROHCC), dedicated staff from both organizations provide care for up to 28 men, many of whom have complex mental health needs. Funding for the program is provided by the Region of Waterloo.

“Comfortable, settled and welcomed”

Ironically, the pandemic that caused the shortage of shelter beds also provided a solution.

“Because of health restrictions, we can’t serve meals inside the Community Centre,” says Tonya Verburg, Ray of Hope’s CEO.  “But that means we had space available to offer an overnight program.”

mattresses on floor at the ray of Hope Community Centre
House of Hope at the ROHCC offers a safe, sheltered place to sleep for up to 28 men

House of Hope opens each evening after supper (served take-out style). Throughout the night, the men have the choice of visiting in the ‘awake’ area, where there are activities set up, or resting on mattresses in the sleeping area. In both areas, social distancing and hygiene rules are observed. Snacks are available in the evening and in the morning, guests have breakfast and leave with a bag lunch.

Tonya and Jessica note that although many of the guests have had trouble fitting into the traditional shelter system, the atmosphere at House of Hope is usually calm.

“Many of these men are familiar with both House of Friendship and Ray of Hope staff and have participated in our programs. At House of Hope, they feel comfortable, settled and welcomed,” says Jessica Bondy, Director of Housing Services at House of Friendship.

“Everyone deserves a second chance”

Tonya says that she’s sometimes asked why both organizations are making this extra effort to care for people who may not have done well in other shelter situations.

“Everyone deserves a second chance, and even a third, fourth or fifth chance to be safe, supported and treated with dignity,” she says firmly.

Jessica adds that “people who are homeless don’t want to be homeless. Most of the people we serve have suffered horrific trauma – they spend most of their time trying to numb their pain.”

House of Hope isn’t the best solution, both women acknowledge. They stress that constant changes in temporary shelter sites are exhausting for both agency staff and program participants. Instead, they would like to see government and community groups come together to create a permanent shelter where homeless people can find both shelter and support.

“God calls us to love another,” Tonya says. “This is one way we can do that.”

Your gifts to House of Friendship and Ray of Hope provide care for some of our community’s most vulnerable people. If you would like to support this ministry, please visit Ray of Hope or House of Friendship.

Ray of Hope remembers Rick Braniff

On June 30, Ray of Hope lost a long-time volunteer and dear friend when Richard (Rick) Braniff passed away.

Rick was our longest-serving volunteer. His ministry to the street started in early 1990 when he began volunteering with the Oasis drop-in centre; his last shift at Ray of Hope was March 11, 2020.

Rick Braniff wearing black hat
Rick wearing one of his many hats

During Ray of Hope’s 50th-anniversary celebration, Rick was one of the recipients of the Millennium Award, which recognizes volunteers with more than 1,000 hours of service. Rick contributed that and more. Throughout the years, he clocked more than 6,780 volunteer hours at Ray of Hope.

According to Ken Wideman, Manager of Volunteer Services, Rick served on each of the Monday to Friday hospitality teams at one point or another, although Wednesday night was his regular shift. Rick was also heavily involved in recruiting walkers and teams for the Coldest Night of the Year walk

“He also did some special project work when we started doing Health & Safety orientation sheets with all our volunteers,” Ken says. “We started with all new volunteers and then Rick helped us “catch up” by taking many of his volunteer peers through the orientation process as well.”

A woman applies face paint to Rick's face
At a Ray of Hope volunteer event

Anyone who ever had an orientation session with Rick knows how seriously he took that responsibility. Because he’d been part of the organization for so long, he knew where everything was, right down to the last light switch. By the time the tour was over, volunteers also knew where everything was – as Community Centre Director Jessica Van Es discovered.

Jess used to have a supply of playing cards and other small items stowed away, ready to be handed out as needed. She had them hidden away because otherwise, they tended to disappear more quickly than they could be replaced. At least, Jess thought they were hidden – until the day she heard Rick telling a new volunteer about “Ray of Hope’s best-kept secret.”

“He’d been going in and handing stuff out,” Jess says with a laugh. “I teased him about giving away my secret stash.”

But that was Rick. He saw a need and he filled it.

Rick and Dave
Rick and Dave “pose” for the camera

“With Rick, there was no pretense, no hiding. He was comfortable in his skin,” Jess says. That comfort was demonstrated by his fondness for interesting hats (he was known to wear a top hat on special occasions) and a love for fantasy and gaming which he shared with many of his fellow guests and volunteers.

And while he loved to joke and tease, Jess remembers that Rick was also a sensitive soul.

“He was empathetic and because of his experiences as both a guest and a volunteer, he could connect with both. Rick instantly recognized a good heart. He always thought the best of people,” she says.

“Rick was a beautiful person who loved to serve. He was part of the lifeblood of our Ray of Hope community.”

Help a neighbour in need

When you give, you make life a little easier for those in our community who are struggling. Thank you!

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re not able to accept donations of food or clothing. But you can still provide meals for hungry people through our secure donation page.