Growing up in Renfrew-Collingwood, Clayton Travis Williams, 42, says he would play basketball as a kid at Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH). Afterwards, he would drop by on occasion to use the phone or the washroom. So, it wasn’t until much later, as an adult, that he started taking advantage of more services at CNH.
In 2017, Clayton lost his father to an accidental drug overdose. At the time, the two were living together in a BC Housing Project. Clayton says he was evicted and struggled to find housing. He slept on job sites and eventually, started living on the street. During this time, he also started experiencing addiction.
Remaining in the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood, Clayton recalls someone mentioning free breakfast at CNH and for over six years, he ended up participating in the Morning Star program, which offers free hot breakfasts, showers, clothing and support services on Saturday mornings. While Clayton says he only participated in the one program, the hot meals and support he received from staff went much further.
“I was always excited to come get a huge plate of bacon and eggs so I took advantage of that anytime I could,” says Clayton. “It’s such a rejuvenation because when you’re on the street, things like dry socks, some shower gel and a decent meal in your belly goes a long way.”
At Morning Star, Clayton says he eventually met Ana Mateescu, Homelessness Manager at CNH. He says Ana went a step beyond and ended up finding food for him outside of those Saturday mornings. She would also help him access other supports, including haircuts and laundry when he needed it.
Today, Clayton is nearly two years sober after addiction treatments and living in sober housing. He is now living on his own in Abbotsford and despite no longer needing services at CNH or living in the neighbourhood, he says he and Ana stay in touch. Ana says she checks in with Clayton regularly and continues to offer him support when she can. She also asks Clayton for help sometimes, too, particularly when she has a client who could talk to someone with the lived experience and journey that Clayton has had.
As for Clayton, this new chapter in his journey is just beginning. He says his late mother was an outreach worker and now he aspires to do the same. He is also rebuilding familial relationships and working on rebuilding an old business.
For others interested in the services CNH provides, Clayton reiterates that Morning Star was a “big boost” for him, especially being easily accessible for someone already in the area.
“A lot of the general consensus is if you want outreach help or a shelter or anything like that, you have to go downtown and get it but there’s this place right here doing that, doing some support stuff like that,” he says.
Clayton adds that he wasn’t aware of the homeless services available at CNH for a long time, even though he used to sleep on the same block. “Why wouldn’t I come down here and get a free meal and have a shower?” he asks. “Keep those doors open because it was big for me when I was homeless so I hope it keeps going.”
“The name, ‘Neighborhood House?’ It really is like that,” he says. “I always felt safe here and comfortable and nobody ever treated me poorly here.”
This story was originally written for our 2023 Annual Report, which highlights the experiences of program participants, volunteers and community members at CNH. To learn more about outreach programs at CNH, visit: www.cnh.bc.ca/outreach. Morning Star takes place every Saturday morning at CNH (5288 Joyce St). Showers and clothing are available from 7-8:30 am, while breakfast is available from 7-9 am.