As the ongoing support manager at Lakeside HOPE House in Downtown Guelph, Bang Ly greets everyone who passes with a great big smile, and the odd hug.
“For me, it’s about meeting people where they are,” Ly said.
“And where they are could mean so many different things. They may have just arrived in Guelph, or they may be just coming off a high. Maybe they have just been evicted. And this is always variable, minute by minute. A big part of my job is providing immediate counselling and support with things people need, like food and clothing.”
A typical day is never the same for Ly.
“There is never a slow day, but that suits me fine. It’s a big job, but I’m happy to fill it,” he said.
HOPE House provides front-line poverty relief and social assistance in the Guelph community through immediate and ongoing support. It's located within the downtown core at 10 Cork St. E., which helps the organization meet many inner-city needs.
Along with budgeting and administration, Ly manages all of the programming in the building. This includes immediate crisis counselling and aid with emergency food and clothing. The Healthy Living Club helps people learn new life skills such as cooking and other programs include, literature appreciation, employment support, music arts, acupuncture and fitness programs.
“We have our own haircutting salon which has become such a big part of the community here and it’s only $3 a cut. The food market is a dignity-based system where they receive points based on how many live in their home and they are able to receive items that they actually need,” Ly said.
“Much of our food is donated and we also have a plot of land at the Ignatius Farm. I say to everyone, we will never turn you away from food or clothing.”
A big part of being at HOPE House for Ly, is to promote dignity.
“We also have a clothing market which functions the much like the food market and we offer trans friendly options as well,” Ly said.
HOPE House operates and advocates on the belief that poverty, food insecurity, inequality, health and community are all interconnected.
Services and programs challenge the stigmas surrounding poverty and allow community members to maintain their dignity and choice, while also providing them with tactile skills to help them develop within a community environment.
It is not about a hand-out but rather offering people a hand-up, creating long-term skills that facilitate self-sufficiency according the HOPE House.
Ly, 38, has been employed with the HOPE House since April.
With a background in social work, he has worked with Second Chance Employment, a detention centre and he has also worked as program facilitator and case manager at Ontario Works in Waterloo Region.
“Being here at the HOPE House is probably the most satisfying job I’ve had in 20 years.”
And it shows.
His energy is contagious as everyone is eager to greet Ly, sit with him and offer a few stories from their day.
“It’s the team here. I’ve never been with a team so supportive and cohesive as we are here. Everyone is so strong, and I’ve never been let down,’ Ly said.
“With only three full-time staff members, other employees work about 20 hours a week. Everyone else is a volunteer. On any given day, we have people come and volunteer on reception, the food market and our breakfasts which are a great way to bring community together.”
The HOPE House also offers AA meetings, Public Health visits and tax accountant services.
In-house counselling is new and is now available every Tuesday.
During the holiday season, Christmas hampers will be prepared and a craft sale will also offer many affordable gently used and handmade items.
The annul Joy Home Tour, held in November, is the largest fundraiser of the year and raises about $110,000 annually.
A special part of Ly’s role is facilitating the ‘Circles’ program.
“This is where people from different socioeconomic sides of the spectrum will come together. They are matched together, and they learn from each other,” Ly sad.
The group meets every Thursday night, and everyone is welcome.
HOPE House has also extended its operating hours to 6 p.m. from 4:30 p.m. during the winter months.
“There’s just no housing in Guelph. And what many people don’t realize is that meth users use so that they can stay awake for four days. They have nowhere to stay so they need to stay awake,” Ly said.
“I’m so appreciative of this place. It’s safe and we never turn anyone away.”
For Ly, there is no better example of community and resilience than being at the HOPE House.
“People come here, and they find joy at times when they think they never could. Being able to comfort people when they are told they don’t belong, this is a privilege,” Ly said.
“It charges my batteries to see them have wins, and to be able to support them.”