What started as a one-woman operation in a small Steinbach classroom has grown into the large non-profit it is today, serving the needs of more than 400 households and 30 people experiencing homelessness.
“We needed to grow because Steinbach had grown, and there were more people who needed help,” says Irene Kroeker, founder and executive director of Steinbach Community Outreach (SCO).
Years ago, Irene was working as a high school alternative education teacher and realized many of her students were hungry, living in poverty, and at risk of becoming homeless. She fed them, using her own money. Once people in the community learned about this, they wanted to help as well.
“After I retired, I was operating out of my garage, and then in 2009, we moved to my church (Steinbach Mennonite Church) and they gave us the entire floor,” Irene says. “We went from operating in about a 400 square foot space to 7,000.”
SCO has three locations, offering the following services:
The drop-in centre is open from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. It’s a space for people to warm up from the cold, hang out, connect with other people, and access SCO’s programming. At the centre, staff and volunteers assist low-income households and people experiencing homelessness with grocery hampers, free clothing, free income tax services, counselling, and other necessities. SCO also runs a Client Aid program where they help people acquire an ID (which is required to access certain benefits), apply for benefits, find affordable housing, and connect with resources. People can visit an advocate as many times as they wish.
Today House is the local homeless shelter run by SCO, which provides emergency overnight shelter in Steinbach.
The Bridge is an apartment block that is currently being built to address the lack of affordable housing in Steinbach. The Bridge will provide low-rent housing for individuals in the community. SCO anticipates occupancy in fall 2023.
Irene says SCO’s dream is to see a warming shelter built in Steinbach.
“There’s literally nowhere for people to go and warm up. It’s heartbreaking knowing they’re living like this. They’re like our outreach family. We know they’re from Steinbach because we’ve seen them grow up here. And they like Steinbach so they want to stick around.”
Irene says people often can’t get housing due to barriers such as mental health issues and addictions, and they don’t always know what resources are available to them when they’re struggling.
“We’re really hoping that maybe someone will step up to help to build the shelter,” she said. “It’s too much for us to do, since we’re already building an apartment building, but we see a need so we’re trying to make others aware. We’re in the education business.”
Irene says the need for housing is increasing as rent and food prices continue to rise, causing additional stress for people. Food insecurity is a growing concern.