A look at the Sonlife Dartmouth Shelter

SonLife church | Photo by Clara Nishida

The Dartmouth Shelter is the first emergency overnight shelter in our City of Lakes history. The pop-up overnight facility offers a free, safe place to spend the night for those in need within the SonLife Community Church on Windmill Rd.

Not only do they offer a welcoming environment for families and individuals, but they also help them finding the right resources and services that they can be connected with based on their needs.

SonLife shelter | Photo by Clara Nishida

The Sonlife Dartmouth Shelter is the first project of the Dartmouth Shelter Society, co-founded by 52-year-old Warren Wesson.

As someone who had used the shelter system in the past and had once dealt with drug addiction, Wesson now uses his experience as an affordable housing advocate and former business owner.

“Through my own personal experience with being in a situation where having a clean, safe space temporarily was a big game changer in my life, it was a difference-maker so I know personally, first-hand how a situation like this can be useful to somebody,” said Wesson.

Warren Wesson | Photo by Clara Nishida

According to its website, the Dartmouth Shelter Society has a goal of addressing the lack of emergency supports in Dartmouth, creating emergency shelters and housing supports, addressing systemic issues, ensuring emergency support services and addressing individual challenges while being transparent and inclusive.

“Essentially what we did is just assess the community’s perception of what we needed to do, what we actually needed to do and what we were actually able to do, so out of that the Dartmouth Shelter Society was formed with the express purpose of putting a temporary shelter together. I can’t take credit for founding it, it’s a group effort,” said Wesson

When the doors open at 9pm every night, men, women and children are welcomed by volunteers, and offered breakfast in the morning. The facility supports anyone who is not in active addiction.

SonLife church | Photo by Clara Nishida

The SonLife shelter staff is completely volunteer-based. Currently, there have been ten to come forward. All those enlisted have recently been certified Emergency First Aid CPR “A” & AED.

Colin McCrae is the Director of Communications for Dartmouth Shelter Society.

“Once they’ve been processed in, they are assigned a portable bed unit and with the support of a staff member they wheel it into a location identified. They then help to make the bed up and once they’ve made the bed up, they can then, if they wish, or they can go down to the lounge area,” McCrae explained.  

Colin said he wants the guests to remember what they used to have, and show them what is available to them.

“We are committed to have a safe space for all our guests ,” McCrae said

Colin McCrae | Photo by Clara Nishida

The SonLife shelter can receive up to 15 people every night, with 10 double-beds and 4-5 kids beds. Because the shelter is run within an existing space in Sonlife church, they use a pop-up shelter system, where beds are stored away during the day and can brought back for the night.

The shelter has had a number of supporters that made it possible for this initiative to happen.

“The Dartmouth Shelter Society was born out of a collective effort, it’s kind of a grassroots. It started at Timothy Halman’s office–Tim Halman is a MLA for Dartmouth East,– and councillor Tony Mancini with a district across town. Those two individuals brought together their political clout to bear and they helped us form a crisis housing working group that worked through the year of 2018 and the first part of 2019,” said Warren Wesson.

“The painting, construction, food, love, money, support, spreading the word. We’ve got a lot of support for this from the community. Basically every way I could think of we’ve received help and we’re grateful for it,” said Wesson.  

Wesson said he hopes that the work that Dartmouth Shelter Society is doing can inspire other communities to do the same.

The Dartmouth Shelter Society have held multiple fundraising events and have also had a tremendous amount of support from the community.

Currently, they are looking for contributions of Metro Transit Bus Tickets, and premade sandwiches. They are also looking for sponsorship of a security camera system, an air-exchanger, a washer & dryer, and donations towards a washroom renovation.

People can sign-up to donate and/or volunteer from their website http://www.dartmouthshelter.ca