- CMHA: Tell me about yourself and your position at CMHA Calgary?
SOS Team: The Street Outreach and Stabilization program consists of 3 CMHA coordinators, John, Kayla and Bryn, and 1 AHS mental health nurse, Nina.This program has been with CMHA since 2004 and is very unique in this city due to the outreach component and non-clinical nature.
SOS Nurse: I’m the mental health nurse on the team. I do mental health assessments, reviews of medical and psychiatric history, make psychiatric referrals and work close with the team in order to support and advocate for clients.
- CMHA: Describe an average day at CMHA Calgary?
SOS Team: Our days are far from average and vary quite significantly. Basically each of the coordinators is responsible for a major shelter in Calgary whether it be the Drop In Center, Alpha House, the Mustard Seed, the Salvation Army, the Alex Youth Centre and SORCe. We try to engage with individuals who identify with a mental health concern and advocate on their behalf to ensure they are accessing appropriate resources to help their situation. In addition to shelters, we all carry a caseload of clients who are seeking more intensive case management as well as a street outreach component where we try to connect with the harder to reach homeless population who do not utilize shelters. A few of us also sit on committees around the city related to mental health and housing.
SOS Nurse: There isn’t really an average day in the SOS program, but I might stop by a shelter to look for or meet with a client, give a client a long acting anti-psychotic injection, distribute food, advocate for housing for a client, interview a client for a mental health assessment, assist a client in crisis, make a referral for psychiatric care, and take a client out for coffee and a chat.
- CMHA: Who typically are your clients?
SOS Team: Our clients are the homeless population of Calgary who are falling between the cracks and require outreach advocacy.
SOS Nurse: Clients are typical only in that they are homeless. Other than that they have a wide variety of mental health concerns, come from different backgrounds, and have varied life goals. SOS clients are truly diverse.
- CMHA: What is the most challenging part of your position?
SOS Team: The most challenging part of our jobs is seeing our clients struggle with such things as addiction, racism, discrimination, and systemic barriers. Our program is also in such high demand that it can be challenging to operate without having to create a wait list.
SOS Nurse: The most challenging part of the job is the struggle to get client mental health care or housing when it’s due to limited resources. Sometimes it seems like you are knocking on a closed door when you are trying to get help for homeless clients.
- CMHA: What is the most rewarding part of your position?
SOS Team: As challenging as it is to see our clients struggle it is as rewarding to watch them succeed whether it be coping with their mental health, overcoming addiction or gaining a housing opportunity. Working in the SOS program also helps keep us humble and reminds us to not take the basic needs we have for granted.
SOS Nurse: The most rewarding part of the job is the pleasure of getting to know the great people who are our clients. It’s also rewarding to see clients get housed, get a grip on their addictions, and become more stable in terms of mental health.
- CMHA: Describe the experience working with clients for someone coming to CMHA for the first time?
SOS Team: We come from a harm reduction approach and meet our clients where they are at in a non-judgmental supportive environment. At an initial meeting we generally listen to our client and come up with a care plan as to how to overcome challenges they are experiencing.
SOS Nurse: I’m committed to working with clients where they are both in the sense of location (on the street, in a shelter or at SORCe) and in terms of what the client wants to work on. Even if the client isn’t focused on mental health I try to find ways to support their mental health while we work on the client’s goals.
- CMHA: You deal with difficult topics and subject matters, how do you take care of yourself when you’re not working?
SOS Team: Self-care is a huge component of what we do. In order to be fully present for our clients we need to ensure that we are also taking time for ourselves. This includes spending time with friends and family, talking with our team mates and being able to support one another in the work we do.
- CMHA: What’s the best part about working at CMHA Calgary?
SOS Team: The best part about working with CMHA is being able to meet our client where they are at on their recovery journey and can offer individualized support.