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Community groups team up to help unsheltered

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The Back Door Mission is teaming up with other local organizations to give help to the unsheltered in Oshawa and Durham during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The name for the project is Mission United, says Ward 4 City Councillor and Back Door Mission Board President Derek Giberson.

“It’s a partnership between numerous agencies that deliver various health care, mental health, social work services,” he explains. “We’re basically starting this week to ramp up [our headquarters] as a single, centralized crisis facility for our vulnerable population.”

He adds with all of the disruption since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a significant impact on already high-risk populations.

“As we initiated dialogues with the different agencies and groups, as well as Mayor [Dan] Carter… it became very clear that there needed to be one place where any of these individuals, whatever their crisis or situation or health need was, that it needed to be streamlined so that they can be sent to one place,” he explains.

That place is Simcoe Street United Church, located at 66 Simcoe St. S., which is where the Back Door Mission operates since that space is currently inactive due to the pandemic.

Groups involved include the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Durham, the John Howard Society, the Region of Durham’s housing and social services divisions, Durham Mental Health Services, and more.

Giberson notes he hopes to have more groups involved in the future.

Stephanie Skopyk, the nurse practitioner lead at CMHA, a group which Giberson says has helped take the lead on the project, says her group was approached first by the Back Door Mission, who initiated a teleconference with a number of groups with the goal of helping the homeless in Oshawa.

“Community providers from there started sharing the invitation with one another, based on our knowledge of one another’s services and areas of expertise,” she says, adding she was happy to jump in on the call.

CMHA is contributing a nurse practitioner and registered nurse, and will also be assisting with healthcare infrastructure.

“[We are contributing] things like mobile devices, and an electronic medical record where we can document the care that’s being provided,” explains Skopyk. “We are facilitating referrals to addictions and psychiatry, the types of specialties that we anticipate will require quite a lot of consultation with.”

CMHA will also be contributing back office responsibilities, and will be trying to help out with the financial management of the project.

Thus far, Skopyk notes there have been some challenges as each respective agency that wants to be involved and help out has to work through their own operational readjustment.

“Trying to plan to support this project and put people and staff on site is just taking a bit of time,” she says, adding some supplies are also on back order.

She says it won’t come together as quickly as they would want, but it will come together piece by piece.

Skopyk says there are two goals in particular for Mission United.

“We sincerely want to convey to the unsheltered community that they matter, and that we want them to be as happy and safe as possible during this time and beyond,” she says. “We also really hope that this sort of pandemic catalyst will demonstrate that the community health sector is knowledgeable, skilled, and critically valuable to the healthcare system.”