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Carolyn’s story – A flicker of hope

“Sometimes, it’s the little things that are powerful – like hearing someone laugh for the first time,” Carolyn Kendall says with a warm smile. “Or maybe someone wants to just socialize and hang out and it’s like ‘Wow, look at you!  You seem to have some enjoyment in life again, some confidence!”

Carolyn is Coast Mental Health’s Senior Outreach Worker, part of Coast’s Street Outreach Team. Together with her team, she helps people with mental illness who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness access much-needed support services.

“Each day is different, depending on whether we’re working out on the streets or from our drop-in offices at the Resource Centre.”

Coast’s Resource Centre is a hub of support services for vulnerable residents of downtown Vancouver, offering shower and laundry facilities, low-cost and nutritious breakfasts and lunches, social opportunities, community nurses, and a client and volunteer-run art room, not to mention the housing the Street Outreach Team.

“If it’s a day at the drop-in, it can be all-day long hectic. New clients hear about us by word-of -mouth and word spreads fast on the street.  You might have someone come in first thing when you open and say ‘I really need a shower,’” Carolyn explains. “They’re wet and cold because they’ve been out all night but this little step – dropping into the Resource Centre for a shower – can be the start of a relationship.”

“And sometimes those people will come back and say ‘Hey, can I use your phone?’ and it’s their way of finding out ‘What are you guys really like? What happens if I do this?”

“And when they find out there is no judgment or expectations, that can be the start of something more –referrals to other services or getting them on Income Assistance.”

Building a relationship is a delicate act, especially with people who are living on the streets.

 

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”I feel lucky that people trust us. These are people who may not have talked to anyone in a long time and they’ll tell us they’re life stories and put that in our hands,” she says.

“Sometimes a person will give you a look and you know they don’t want to talk and then nothing good could come of that interaction,” Carolyn says. “Or if we see someone totally covered up under a blanket, we won’t disturb them. Maybe they’ve been walking around all night and now that it’s light they finally feel safe enough to get some sleep.  I might just leave a card and some information about the Resource Centre.”

Working with vulnerable people with mental illness can take a toll but Carolyn’s eyes light up when she talks about the impact she and her team have.

”I feel lucky that people trust us. These are people who may not have talked to anyone in a long time and they’ll tell us they’re life stories and put that in our hands,” she says.

While Carolyn and her team can offer real and immediate assistance to the people they serve, for her, part of Coast’s impact comes down to something more intangible: hope.

“I’ve seen enough to know that if you’re done with hope, you really are done in a way,” she explains. “Coast’s support services offer that hope – and if you have just a flicker of hope, that can go a long way.”

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