Right in the middle of Charlottetown, a refuge is open throughout the day for Islanders struggling with homelessness, poverty, and many other issues that require compassion and support.
The centre offers a warm haven for people to have a snack, take a shower, do their laundry, access a phone and computer, and talk with community support representatives who are there to help.
Mike Redmond, Manager of Bedford MacDonald House, a homeless shelter for men, also manages the new centre. He says as a result of a rising need and with the help of tremendous community support, the centre opened the first week in January.
“We have a social responsibility to make sure nobody is left behind,” says Mike. “We need to do the best we can with the resources we have to help these folks get on the right path. Most of them have nobody, and that is the problem. When they fall, there is no one to catch them.
“Since we opened, we have been very busy. More than 70 people came through in the first week, and now there are 30 or 40 people on a daily basis,” says Mike. “Our visitors include men, women, teenagers, and families. Every case is different and complex.
“We make sure someone sits down with everyone coming through the door. Community service providers at the centre answer questions and help guide the person with the help they need.”
Mike says Islanders who visit the centre have immediate access to government and community services offering support with healthcare, obtaining PEI identification, employment, financial assistance, food, housing, and more.
As a result of a community assessment done by the province in 2018 and data from Bedford MacDonald House and other homeless shelters, 26 agencies including government and non-profits organizations met on December 18, 2019.
“It was amazing to get that many people around the table a week before Christmas, and we realized something incredible was happening. At the meeting, we made a plan as to what service providers would be involved and how we would staff the centre.”
Staff and service providers available at the centre
“Between Bedford MacDonald House and the Community Outreach Centre, we have four full-time and 10 part-time staff,” says Mike. Also, about 10 to 15 service representatives from organizations such as the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI, John Howard Society, Social Services and Housing, and Canadian Mental Health are on site at scheduled times. Also, UPEI nursing students will do their clinical rotation at the centre.
“It is great to see so many supports at the centre, and the service providers will get a chance to collaborate. At our mens’ shelter, most of the guests have some form of disability, and it is usually undiagnosed. The first thing needed is usually medical and dental care. We have relationships with local dentists who will do things quickly.
“Also, the need for identification is an issue for many people. We probably have the best relationships with police services in Canada in terms of identifying risk in a timely fashion and addressing needs.
“Staff and volunteers need to be compassionate and understanding. Unfortunately, in this country people using shelters have a certain stigma. It is assumed people have done something wrong. But 90 percent of the men coming to our shelter have experienced some type of trauma. Once you understand that, you realize many factors contribute to where they are now.”
Personal stories need to be told
“We spend a lot of time picking guys off the street. We had a war veteran at the house with PTSD and various stages of dementia, and nobody was looking after him. We had to get assessments done and get him into long-term care. There was heavy pressure to get him out of the house, but what were we going to do? Those cases are hard.
“One guy we are working with is only in his twenties and has been an alcoholic for about 15 years. Now he has been five months without a drink and is doing really well. He has no place to go. He has cerebral palsy, so we have been working with The Council of People with Disabilities. He has developed a love for small engine repair and we need to help him follow that interest.
“Another man in his early forties has spent 75 percent of his life in jail. He has had a hard life. In the last few months, I have seen a change in him. I have let him know that he can stay with us. It is important to understand and appreciate that life has not been kind to some people.”
Employment support and employer engagement
“A construction company has asked for some labourers, and another company called All Star Cresting Embroidery and Screen printing has already hired two of our guests. As a result, they have been able to exit the homeless shelter and go to transitional housing. When our clients are hired, we offer support by visiting the workplace to see how they are getting along.
“We are looking for employers who have compassion, understanding, and flexibility to understand the journey people are on. We ask our guests questions about their education, the reason they may have dropped out, and how we can get them back on track. We try not to rush the process. People here stay with us as long as they need to, until they are ready to take the next step.”
Other supports for housing crisis
Salvation Army oversees Bedford MacDonald House and an emergency hotline for the province. In the case of people losing their home as a result of a fire, they help people access immediate and long-term housing.
“We also offer a transitional housing program with 10 units for men, women, and families,” says Mike. “Representatives from Anderson House, Blooming House, Salvation Army, Chief Mary Bernard, and Deacon House sit around the table and select candidates who may be ready for next stage housing.
“We work with clients and visit at least three times a week. We work with landlords and administer a contract, and this support is comfort for the landlords. We are building bridges. Some landlords have called to express interest in working with us when they see the collaboration and the multitude of resources dedicated to this vulnerable population.
“Clients are given a chance to start over with support to deal with all the stages of setting up housing, such as damage deposits, hookups, maintaining the living space, managing a budget, and more.”
For more information, contact Mike Redmond at (902) 892-9242, [email protected].
Cutline: Mike Redmond, Manager of the Community Outreach Centre, with Tamie MacIntyre, Case Worker, Abby Wilson (grey sweater) and Amber Laybolt (red sweater) who are third-year UPEI student nurses doing their clinical rotation at the centre. “We want to break down the stigma of why people are homeless,” says Mike. “Probably 60 percent of the Island’s population is two paycheques away from being homeless. When you know that, you can approach the issue of homelessness with more compassion and understanding.”