Overcoming hidden barriers: four stories of hope from UGM

Unaddressed, hidden barriers can silently trap someone in poverty, homelessness or addiction. But every day, Union Gospel Mission (UGM) support offers people resources to triumph over these complex challenges, moving them towards transformation. 

Following are four of those stories, re-posted by permission.

Omar’s story

When Omar landed in Vancouver and walked off the plane as a refugee from the Middle East, he was ready to embrace freedom. However, between barely speaking the language, hardly knowing anyone, and often having nowhere to stay, settling in can be a rocky road for refugees.

Thankfully, newcomer services connected Omar with UGM that very day. Here, he chowed down on his first Canadian meal, and was warmly welcomed into our safe shelter.

Omar then met with Demetrius, a compassionate case manager. Together, they started building a foundation for Omar’s new life by filing paperwork, making phone calls and getting enrolled in English classes.

After three weeks, Omar secured his work permit and moved into housing, which was supported by income assistance for the meantime. At a community meal, Omar was introduced to a UGM volunteer, who is a fellow Middle Eastern refugee and previous shelter guest. With shared experiences, the two instantly connected – leading Omar to a perfect job with his culinary experience: a chef in a Middle Eastern restaurant!

Omar quickly went from not having an ounce of income to being housed, employed and completely independent. Today, he feels home, and has a strong sense of safety, optimism and belonging.

Jessica’s story

Sadly, growing up in the foster care system is often a rough experience for kids. But Jessica had healthy Christian influences, was involved in youth outreach ministries and served on mission trips. This secured her safety, developed her passion for children and built her faith in God.

However, life changed dramatically when Jessica ‘aged out’ of the foster care system and moved out on her own. After meeting new people and experimenting with alcohol and drugs, she grew apart from her faith community. This eventually unraveled into a lonely, unrelenting four-year on-and-off struggle with homelessness and addiction.

When it started freezing last winter, Jessica sought warmth at a women’s drop-in centre. That’s when she decided to try recovery at UGM’s Lydia Home. Opening up was hard at first, but the community respected Jessica’s boundaries, helping her trust again. Here, she also rekindled her relationship with Jesus – giving Jessica the hope, dignity and strength to overcome the addiction.

Since finding renewal at Lydia Home just a year ago, Jessica has gotten her own place, and graduated college with a Diploma in Early Childhood Education (ECE). Today, she’s returned to her love for kids as a full-time ECE assistant – and beams with confidence! Thank you; because you believe in restored lives, Jessica has fast-tracked into stability and deep purpose.

Juliette & Hope’s story

Parenthood can be challenging for anyone, but especially for a low-income single mother who is living with a disability. That’s why our Women & Families team were quick to connect with Juliette and Hope* at UGM’s Summer BBQ.

After learning about Juliette’s multiple sclerosis and its effect on her mobility, employment and ability to care for Hope, UGM staff were determined to help make their lives a little brighter.

Graham, a children’s outreach worker, invited Hope to UGM’s summer day camps, and then to our Eastsiders Homework Club in the fall. Now, she comes almost every day after school. Here, she tries new activities, and has made friends and positive mentors. But most importantly, it gives Graham daily opportunities to personally walk alongside their family.

When Juliette and Hope were evicted from their home, Graham assisted them with a UGM ‘Hope 7’ grant – financial aid that alleviates moving company costs for guests facing crises. Later, when he learned Hope didn’t have a bed and wasn’t sleeping well, the Women & Families team worked quickly to deliver a mattress to her apartment the next day. Today, Graham often walks Hope to and from school, and Juliette is supported through food hampers.

Although every day is still tough, Juliette and Hope know that they are safe. For Graham, investing in whole families like theirs is a way of living out his love for Jesus. Thank you for supporting these stable relationships – they are feeding hope, and helping build resilient communities.

* Names and faces changed to protect guests’ identities

Robert’s story

Robert excelled in a respected career, until his drug dealers blackmailed him into balancing their books, threatening him at gunpoint. After years of fear and violence, Robert sought safety at a local shelter, desperate to escape. But after being turned away three nights in a row, despite being first in line for a bed, he started losing the last bit of hope he had – until, tired, hungry and cold, he tried calling UGM.

By the time he hung up, a bed was waiting for Robert. When he arrived at UGM, Joey, a front desk worker, greeted him warmly. Joey offered Robert a meal, and explained that he’d receive shower toiletries and fresh bedding, and that his clothes could be washed overnight. Overwhelmed by the love and hospitality, Robert threw out his meth pipe.

In recovery, Robert started healing by going back to the roots of his addiction. First, his childhood sexual abuse. Then, the ongoing impact of being misunderstood and the stigma and verbal assault that often followed. After finding acceptance through caring counsellors and peers, Robert forgave his offenders – giving him joy, peace and confidence.

Today, Robert is safe, housed and back in school! But what he values most about his new life are the opportunities to love others. This includes Johnathan, his best friend and motivator through recovery – who sadly passed away after relapsing. As Robert walks alongside other men now, he honours Johnathan’s motto: “It takes a team to make a dream come true.”

Union Gospel Mission has been working locally for 80 years. Through its seven locations in Metro Vancouver and in Mission, UGM provides emergency shelter, meals, outreach, career development counselling, education, safe and affordable housing, addiction recovery and much more to those struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction. 

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1 comment for “Overcoming hidden barriers: four stories of hope from UGM

  1. Thank you for posting these hope filled stories. Forgiveness is not always a simple thing. Nor is recovery from illness, abuse or the inability to find a home or friends where one feels loved and understood. It is heartwarming to hear Union Gospel Mission cares and offers hospitality and counselling to those who need a friend and a hand up.

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