Cool Aid Treats
By Rita Button
Photo by Sandy Grayson
Sometimes bad luck intervenes. Sometimes structural barriers get in the way. Sometimes one bad decision precipitates another, and before you know it, a roof over your head becomes a near impossibility.
That’s when you should connect with Victoria Cool Aid, a society that believes “everyone deserves a home.” With support from all levels of government and agencies such as BC Housing and Island Health, Cool Aid is responsible for fourteen buildings of supportive housing in Greater Victoria. Cool Aid understands that once you have a place you can call home, your mind is freer to meet the challenges that threatened to put you on the street. When I talked to her a few weeks ago, Lori Angelini, Manager of Philanthropy at Cool Aid, said that the main causes of homelessness are many, including trauma, poverty, colonization, mental illness, addictions and poverty. But she also said that housing is needed first. Once you get people into a place, it’s possible to begin to overcome the challenges that resulted in their difficult circumstances.
While housing is the first step in becoming a citizen who has regained self-pride, trauma, addictions and mental health issues are often the stumbling blocks preventing reintegration into society. Cool Aid realizes that a Community Health Centre is one of the supports to helps a people regain their health. Located at 713 Johnson Street downtown, the Health Centre is staffed by fifty medical professionals whose specialty is inner city health, offered through integrated team based primary care, a pharmacy dispensary and a dental clinic. A health outreach worker helps patients who cannot get to the clinic or need to be accompanied to a medical appointment. This worker finds people where they are—sometimes an apartment, sometimes a park bench, for example—to follow up on how the prescription and support are working for them. Sometimes they help modify a course of action to ensure that the advice given by the doctor or nurse is being followed. These practices build relationships and allow for an intervention to occur before things have progressed too far along a negative path.
In the same building is a three-chair dental clinic where people on income assistance or disability pensions can access a range of treatment services that traditional dental practices are unable to provide.
Of course, part of regaining self-respect is to contribute, a condition that is often equated with having a job and earning money. Cool Aid helps with this as well. The Casual Labour Pool is a non-profit program where people register and are called upon to work. A person’s skills and abilities are matched with available jobs. Sometimes, people will begin as volunteers; sometimes it’s casual or part time work, but always connections to various possibilities occur, allowing a person to have hope for the future and enjoy the pleasure of a job well done. Painting, gardening, cleaning, and repairs are just a few of the possibilities. The Labour Pool does not charge employers, homeowners or workers for its connecting services, so Cool Aid fundraises to make it happen. A video showcasing the casual labour part of the organization has been made. In the planning stages are videos illustrating the work of the Health Centre and another on Seniors Housing. The Labour Pool video can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw_XNXlrhaM
Among all this work, Cool Aid has not forgotten the need for play. To add to the sense of social belonging, recreational and educational programs are offered. Showing people multiple possibilities to enjoy themselves is a part of creating a sense of self. Going to the movies with a friend, for example, might be impossible if you don’t have the price of the entrance ticket. Cool Aid can help with that. Art classes, cooking together, going for runs and/or walks are among the choices offered to show how people can enjoy their lives by sharing them with others—creating a sense of community illustrating the value of human relationships and communication.
Other ways of creating community are the community Holiday Celebration Dinners that Cool Aid organizes for whoever would like to attend. Helping to eliminate social isolation while giving the gift of nutritious food, the dinners allow those enjoying them a chance for conversation which might result in an altered vision of the world. Sometimes one word or one mouthful can change a person’s sense of belonging.
Other ways we can help are to have open and welcoming conversations about recovery, addictions and mental health. Because of the interrelationship between homelessness and mental health, the opportunity to talk about those barriers helps with recovery and improved life skills, better health outcomes and an increased sense of engagement with the community.
Naturally, all of these initiatives require financial support. One way people can help is to donate money—a monthly commitment works very well since that allows those who plan the programs to make concrete commitments instead of hoping that the money will somehow be there. Leaving a gift in one’s will is also welcomed.
Cool Aid also organizes the annual Homecoming Gala at Ship Point—this year it’s on Saturday, May 25—for which they sell tickets at $150.00 each. There’s dinner, dancing, along with an opportunity to participate in the silent auction, resulting in participants’ feeling good about giving something back to the community. The well-known philanthropist Andrew Beckerman, is this year’s honorary chair and is matching donations made at the event.
Everyone is a part of our world. The sooner we get to recognize and welcome this idea, the more efficiently we’ll get to an effective world, a world where as Andrew Beckerman states in the Times Colonist: “I believe I live better if everyone lives better.” https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/retired-architect-issues-donation-challenge-1.23127359