Eric Duval was tired and worn down.
In and out of jail and struggling with addictions, Duval walked through the door of Vernon’s Howard House in April after a caring police officer recommended the non-profit facility.
“I knew for a fact that I needed to do something, something had to happen,” said the 42-year-old.
“You have to be a little humble to live here but it’s been good. I joined the drug and alcohol program and there is help for any aspect of my life.”
The John Howard Society of the North Okanagan has been reaching out to men in need for 50 years.
“It’s not a parole house. They’re not evil people,” said Kelly Fehr, society program director.
They may be there because of disabilities, brain injuries, mental illness, substance abuse or they are on income assistance and have limited funds.
“We have guys here who are working but can’t afford to pay child support and housing,” said Steve Soglo, shelter services manager.
The average age of the clients is 56 but there are a growing number of senior men.
Inside the 43rd Street facility, the services range from nine beds for alcohol and drug harm reduction to a 24-bed men’s shelter, homeless prevention, 20 transitional housing rooms and the Work B.C. employment program.
“We are the only shelter in the province that provides employment services regularly,” said Fehr.
Clients go through employment workshops, career search programs, coaching, case management and computer training.
For some, they find positions with Howard Industries, which operates catering and handyman businesses.
The goal is to help these men move on to new careers and leave their former activities in the past.
“We’re building confidence,” said Soglo.
Some of the clients are victims of childhood sexual abuse and tough guy stereotypes make it challenging for them to first contact Howard House.
“The topic of men who struggle through life gets little coverage because men don’t talk about their feelings. When they ask for help, they are ridiculed because they asked for help,” said Fehr.
“When they come here, that’s when the healing begins.”
Duval is now living on his own through the society’s supported housing and working with Howard Industries. He envisions becoming a social worker and ultimately helping men with similar life stories.
“This is what makes me feel good,” said Duval, who is calling for compassion and understanding within the broader community.
“People don’t treat these people as human beings. It’s easy to say you are better than them until it happens to you.”
Soglo is impressed with Duval’s progress.
“A lot of guys are of a similar age and they see he’s made a change and that it’s possible. He is an example,” said Soglo.
With Christmas almost here, local residents are urged to reach out to Howard House’s clients.
Through www.homelesspartners.com, Christmas wish lists are posted for those at Howard House and the Gateway Shelter.
“We would like to encourage people to give a gift of hope to the most vulnerable and often exploited men in our community,” said Fehr.
In previous years, a gift of a laptop allowed one man to finish a college course and get a job, while another client was able to travel to his parent’s funeral because of a plane ticket. Many of the men ask for gifts they can pass on to their children.
“We hope the community will show that men, and even hurting men, are part of the community. This is a place for men to heal and the community can help with that,” said Fehr.
For more information about the John Howard Society, call 250-542-3555.