A Changing Landscape

A Changing Landscape

A Changing Landscape
By Grant McKenzie

Our Place is not the same today as it was the day before, and it won’t be the same tomorrow.

In this strange and difficult time, my heart breaks with sorrow at the vulnerable people struggling to survive with yet another obstacle in their path, but my heart also swells with pride at the people who are stepping up to help.

Working on the frontlines is not an easy task, but add in an invisible yet potentially deadly pandemic, and you can imagine the stress that our staff is going through.

In a case of serendipity, Our Place had bolstered its Outreach team with several paramedics in response to the Fentanyl crisis that has been wreaking havoc on those suffering from addiction over the last two years. Those paramedics are now busier than ever — not with more opioid overdoses, but with treating a scared population that doesn’t fully understand our planet’s new social order.

As we move funds to where they’re most needed, adding more hours for paramedics was at the top of the list.

When I walk among the many people huddled in tents or tarps or even just a blanket, one of the first questions I get asked is: “Will the shelter still be open tonight?”

Thankfully, so far, the answer continues to be; “Yes.”

Our Place offers beds in four locations, housing around 175 people.

The question I don’t get asked is: “Where will I eat?”

The reason for that is simple. Our Place has never stopped providing three meals per day. And as this pandemic continues, we endeavour to make more food options available. Due to social distancing, our kitchen staff need to think more creatively as they plan one-bowl meals that can be safely handed out at our front gates.

We are also busy providing water, tea, coffee and milk.

The biggest challenge is that everything we need to do in the face of this pandemic is virtually the exact opposite of what Our Place is known for. Our five locations spring from one, that we call a community centre for a reason. The inside of our Pandora Avenue building is a place of hope and belonging where people can escape the social isolation brought about by stigma, shame, mental illness, and poverty.

We know that isolation leads to depression, which, sadly, can also lead to overdoses from people trying to self-medicate.

Our whole purpose is to bring people in from isolation, to offer them a dry, safe home and a feeling of family who cares enough to find them the resources and help they need.

Now, in this age of social distancing, we have to redefine ourselves; to look at our strengths and see where we can redeploy our skills and services.

In truth, we’re needed more than ever.

Our frontline team is interacting with the street population every day, accessing their needs, handing out tents, sleeping bags, and emergency supplies. Our paramedics are treating wounds, overdoses, and more than a few panic attacks. And behind the scenes, our incredible custodial team is doubling its efforts to keep our environment as sterile as possible so that our staff remains healthy enough to help those without any other resources.

We are also working hand-in-hand with our provincial and city governments, and our fellow charities to deal with a situation none of us have faced before, and one that changes daily.

When this health crisis is over, and yes I believe that is in our future, Our Place will need to rebuild. We will need to rebuild trust with the people we serve who feel, once again, they are unworthy of the same assistance and support that housed people receive. We will need to rebuild our shared vision with our supporters who have now seen what happens without Our Place in full operation. And we will need to rebuild our determined voice crying out for a better solution to homelessness, along with an increase in indoor shelter and permanent housing, so that in the future, people won’t need to pitch a tent on the streets of Pandora.

Our Place won’t be the same tomorrow as it is today, but that is not a bad thing. Thanks to your continued support, encouragement and faith, we will be stronger than ever.

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