'Thanks' are few and far between
Salvation army continues to be haven for many

Karen McOuat
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 18/98) - Seven days a week, the local corps of the Salvation Army runs an emergency shelter, soup kitchen, food hampers, thrift store, halfway house and counselling services.

Exhausting, but still, Capt. Karen Hoeft has inspiration left at the end of each day.

"I do what I do because I love God," says Hoeft. "If you do it to get praise, of course you're going to get burnt out. The thanks are few and far between."

Indeed, there's been some Sally Ann-bashing in recent years. Vigilant readers may recall Yellowknifer articles from 1995, comparing different Salvation Army locations across Canada. It was reported that the Yellowknife homeless got toast and coffee for breakfast, while bacon and eggs were served in Calgary and Vancouver branches.

"That's because those people are in hostels, they pay rent," explains Alan Hoeft. The Army operates hostels as well as shelters, and the two have sometimes been confused. Hoeft says that theirs is an emergency shelter, a free place to stay for the night.

As for the homeless being poorly fed, those assumptions are also unfounded. The lunch soups are hearty, and "for suppers we'll a casserole, for example," says Hoeft. "This is real substantial, stick-to-your-ribs kind of stuff. You could live off just the two daily meals we provide. Some people do."

While some charity organizations have a no-questions asked policy about the people who drop in, Karen says it's like the "give a man a fish" expression. The Salvation Army will give food to anyone needing it, but they also want to help people get back on their feet.

"We're here to help them regain their dignity," she says. "We start from the bottom, working up through the system. But how can you begin to help if you don't even know the person's name?

"We do see people who move back to the shelter after being out for a while, but their stints are shorter and shorter. And some of them only come back for soup."

The Salvation Army is its own religious denomination, founded in the 1800s by William Booth, a social activist, and his wife Cathy, a minister.

"We like to say that our church is the one with a social conscience," jokes Karen Hoeft, "because our first theologian was a woman!"