A help­ing hand

Tami Strict­land-MacIn­tyre has taken over Down­town Char­lot­te­town Inc. pro­gram to reach out to peo­ple liv­ing on the street

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE STE­WART

Tami Strict­land-MacIn­tyre ap­proaches panhandlers in Char­lot­te­town with an ear to lis­ten and a warm smile.

She takes them for food and hot drinks and does what­ever she can to help.

Strict land Mac In ty re was hired by Down­town Char­lot­te­town Inc. (DCI) ear­lier this year to lead its Nav­i­ga­tor Street Outreach pro­gram. Her job is to find out who is on the streets, what their needs are and where to lead them for help. DCI first launched this pro­gram about two years ago, but the need is now more dire than ever with such a low va­cancy rate in the cap­i­tal city.

“I love it, I ab­so­lutely love it,’’ said Strict­land-MacIn­tyre, who has been work­ing with peo­ple on Char­lot­te­town’s streets since May.

“You have to get the trust is­sue go­ing. You have to be hon­est with them, and they have to trust you. You build a re­la­tion­ship, and that’s what I do.’’

She’ll ask what they’re look­ing for. If it’s food, she may bring them a sand­wich or tell them the Sal­va­tion Army serves break­fast and cof­fee, that the soup kitchen of­fers lunch and sup­per and that the food bank has ham­pers avail­able.

If they’re cold, she’ll make sure they get a hat or mit­tens or clean clothes.

If they’re open to finding a job, she’ll help them fill out an ap­pli­ca­tion or make sure they get help build­ing a re­sume or get job coun­selling.

Strict­land-MacIn­tyre said she helped one man in his late 20s find a job.

“He was on the street with nowhere to live and he didn’t want to pan­han­dle, so he reached out to me and I went with him. We got a (job) ap­pli­ca­tion done and I got him a job cut­ting grass with the city and I found him a place to live. He’s do­ing fan­tas­tic. He worked so darn hard that they kept him. He used to call me ev­ery sin­gle day and say how happy and ap­pre­ci­ate he was. His whole life changed. That means a lot to me.’’

Strict­land-MacIn­tyre said she sim­ply ap­plied for the job, de­scrib­ing her­self as “very street smart’’.

Ma­jor Daniel Roode with the Sal­va­tion Army said the need for peo­ple on the street is real and it’s grow­ing.

When the Sal­va­tion Army took over Bed­ford Mac­Don­ald House, a men’s shel­ter, in 2012 they av­er­aged 300 to 400 shel­ter nights per year. Last year, that num­ber grew to 1,200 shel­ter nights.

“We have seen a con­tin­ued in­crease each year of peo­ple mak­ing use of that ser­vice,’’ Roode said. “The age range (of peo­ple stay­ing at Bed­ford Mac­Don­ald House) can range from men in their late teens or early 20s right on up to their 70s and 80s.

“Some are lo­cal Is­lan­ders, some are tran­sient, some are young, some are old, some are strug­gling with ad­dic­tions, some are flee­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sit­u­a­tions which is kind of what peo­ple nor­mally as­so­ciate with women, but it can hap­pen to men as well.’’

It’s a dry shel­ter mean­ing that men aren’t al­lowed in if they’re show­ing some form of in­tox­i­ca­tion.

“For a gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, to get a man off the street into a warm, clean, dry bed (and a) clean shower, it’s there. The Bed­ford Mac­Don­ald House feels more like a B&B than it does an in­sti­tu­tion be­cause it is an old char­ac­ter home. It has that sense that you’ve come into a home.’’

Roode said there has been a lot of dis­cus­sion about the need for a women’s shel­ter, but the way for­ward is very chal­leng­ing.

“You would have to have sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing to do that,’’ he said. “It takes sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing to (op­er­ate) Bed­ford Mac­Don­ald and, to be quite frank, that is a real chal­lenge. There have to be key stake­hold­ers and partners in­volved. Do I see that as a pos­si­bil­ity in the fu­ture? Yes . . . but I think that’s an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion into the com­mu­nity at dif­fer­ent lev­els with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers.’’

Strict­land-MacIn­tyre said a lot of peo­ple on the street find warmth at night wher­ever they can.

“A lot of them are alone and they couch surf . . . and stay where they can stay. They don’t have any­body, they re­ally don’t,’’ she said.

Roode said home­less­ness is a multi-faceted is­sue.

“There is no sil­ver bul­let to fix this so­cial con­cern,’’ Roode said. “I think on many fronts (we need to) find suc­cess in terms of im­prov­ing em­ploy­ment, im­prov­ing job skills, im­prov­ing fam­ily life and re­la­tion­ship skills, (we need to) im­prove in the area of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ed­u­ca­tion about ad­dic­tions and ad­dic­tion ser­vices . . . and, of course, the big­gie is hous­ing. All of these fac­tors play a part.’’

The Guardian ap­proached some peo­ple at a lo­cal cof­fee shop to see what their thoughts were.

“I think what (Strict­land-MacIn­tyre) is do­ing is great,’’ said one man who didn’t want to give his name. “We’re all just a pay­cheque or two away from be­ing in trou­ble.’’

Strict­land-MacIn­tyre said the peo­ple on the street are not to be looked down on.

“They’re good peo­ple, they re­ally are,’’ she said. “It could be my kid out there; it could be yours. Don’t ever judge. It’s not that easy to get off the streets when you have no­body and there’s nowhere to go.’’

MITSUKI MORI/THE GUARDIAN

Tami Strict­land-MacIn­tyre was hired ear­lier this year by Down­town Char­lot­te­town Inc. to lead its Nav­i­ga­tor Street Outreach pro­gram. She ap­proaches panhandlers on city streets and helps them with what­ever they need. “I do what I have to do to make things work and suc­ceed,” she told The Guardian.

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