‘It’s a brand new start’: Homeless in Nanaimo are taking job skills training to fill labour crisis

'It's a brand new start': Homeless in Nanaimo are taking job skills training to fill labour crisis
WatchAn inspiring new job skills program in Nanaimo is putting homeless people to work and giving them work placements that could be life changing. The first class is in session now and as has generated huge hope in those showing up, ready for their next chapter. Skye Ryan has more.

Packing books, and a newfound confidence, 36-year-old Lisa Balkwill showed up with a smile at her new job training Wednesday.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a brand new start,” said Balkwill.

Until recently homeless, Nanaimo addict has got clean, found a roof over her head and has started pursuing her goal of becoming a carpenter.

“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and for a minute I thought I was going to lose that dream,” said Balkwill.

She was still wearing the coat CHEK News first encountered her in, back in 2020, when reporting on how the pandemic was cutting off the illicit drug supply.

“Just losing a sense of hope, losing a sense of hope,” Balkwill told CHEK News, from a tent in Nanaimo’s downtown. Since then, she has become one of the hundreds accepted into Island Crisis Care Society’s supportive housing. Now a 4-week training program called Project Rise, also run by ICCS and teaching homeless people everything from resumes, to work skills for specific job placements is her next step.

“Self-worth is priceless,” said Balkwill.

“You see them attend and engage and a light goes on and you know that there’s hope now,” said Project Rise Instructor Stephen Cochrane.

71-year-old student Linda Haynes agrees.

“I have an aim, and a purpose and goals and that’s very important to me,” said Haynes, who is living in supportive housing.

Island Crisis Care Society has also bought the Nanaimo Bakery. To put those job skills into action and those formerly homeless people, to work

“It’s definitely the plan for the future right, so we’ll have different jobs we do down here, baking, working up front the grounds, all different things,” said General Manager of the Nanaimo Bakery, Josh Nelson.

“We know that employers are hurting to get employees in and if we can offer them a subsidized employee for a short term to get them going that’s going to make the difference for them,” said Cochrane.

Employers are already lining up with placements, and students are seeing big demand for them in this labour crisis.

Once up and running, Project Rise plans to help up to 50 people per year, like Lisa Balkwill.

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Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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