‘Poverty comes with many faces,’ says Gateway of Hope executive director

Demand for services is at record levels and continuing to grow, says Jim Coggles

Demand for help — whether it comes in the form of a meal, a bed or a hot shower — is on the rise in Langley — and it shows no sign of slowing.

Last December, the Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope distributed more than 550 Christmas hampers to singles, couples without children and to seniors struggling to make ends meet within the community.

That is a record number for the shelter.

And so far in 2015, the number of people looking for help is continuing to grow, said   Jim Coggles, Gateway of Hope executive director.

As summer approaches, Gateway of Hope has experienced significant increases in the number of people accessing some of its key services, he said.

“We’ve seen a marked increase over the last two and three months in the number of people coming to our daily community meal.

“Rising from an average of 100 meals served for lunch or dinner daily, now we’re serving as many as 150.

“In fact, one Sunday dinner this past month saw a record number of 180 meals served out of the warm and welcoming community kitchen, which the four local Rotary Clubs helped financially to create five years ago when Gateway of Hope was constructed,” said Coggles.

People of all ages and varying levels of low- to no-income or need are welcome.

Although there have been some new faces in the crowd recently,  the shelter is also seeing many regulars, who might normally come two or three times a week, now coming more often because they’re having a tough time getting by.

“Our staff connected with one young couple who both recently lost their jobs and, consequently, their home. They’re now living in a tent and coming to us for hot meals and showers — literally, just to survive,” said Coggles.

“Our beds here are full and we’re doing whatever we can to help.”

Gateway of Hope’s community meal isn’t the only program experiencing high demand these days. The income tax preparation program offered by Gateway’s Community and Family Services Office has processed a record number of tax returns this year for individuals and families who qualify for this needed service.

The numbers have climbed from an average of 270 returns over the past few years to over 360 this year.

“This is significant, because most of the men and women coming to us for this service are not necessarily homeless, though a number of them are certainly at risk,” said Coggles.

They’re either living on a limited pension or income assistance or they are the working poor — living below the margin, he added.

And this group of vulnerable community members seems to be growing.

“The reality is, poverty comes with many faces; the visibly homeless person on the street; the senior living on a greatly restricted income; the individual with a physical or mental health condition on income assistance, or the single mom trying to care for her family on minimum wage. There are people all around us who are struggling just to survive.”

But there is something the community can do to help, said Coggles. People can donate or volunteer and then they can ask others to help out as well.

Many of the critical services Gateway of Hope provides rely entirely upon community funding, so financial support  is vital not just at Christmas, but all through the year.

Volunteers help in a variety of ways, too, accounting for almost three quarters of the workforce.

Anyone who would like to help out is invited to call 604-514-7375.

“We would love to hear from you. The Salvation Army Gateway of Hope is a part of this community.

“We believe in giving dignity and hope and helping those less fortunate — not just to get by in the moment, but to move forward and out of poverty for good,” said Coggles.