By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Organizations taking part in Mission United have declared their mission to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic a success.
Hosted by the Back Door Mission, Mission United has seen organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Durham Mental Health, Ontario Works, and more come together to help Durham’s homeless population.
The organizations have created a “hub” for the homeless where they can find services they need.
These services include daily meals, washrooms, a place to sleep, mental health services, as well as general health services.
For Ward 4 City Councillor and Back Door Mission Board President Derek Giberson, the project has been a massive success.
Giberson believes the success at Mission United has resulted in conversations to keep it going even after the pandemic is over.
“We’ve been having really great conversations with the region, as well as with people who are very excited about what’s going on here at the provincial level, and want to see if there’s a way of making this sustainable because it’s working so well,” he says.
Giberson says the initial intent behind Mission United was to help the region’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But then what we very quickly found out was that this is working well, not just in the context of the pandemic, but generally for this population,” he says.
Whether or not it is sustainable is an ongoing conversation, according to Giberson.
“We know that there are some service providers certainly who are extending,” he says. He notes when Mission United began it was initially planned for three months. Giberson notes models such as Mission United are typically used in much larger cities with a larger homeless population than Oshawa.
“It has mainly been used in larger cities that have been working with homelessness, addictions, and things like that for much longer,” he explains.
Like Giberson, CMHA Durham Nurse Practitioner Lead Stephanie Skopyk says she is enthusiastic about extending their time with Mission United.
“We’ve been here now for about 12 weeks, and we’re seeing an increase in the uptake. We started out with maybe seven, eight patients a day, and now we’re consistently around 20 patients a day,” she says.
She explains her team helps deal with wounds, mental health, and addictions, which is probably about 40 per cent of what they’re seeing.
While things can be a bit chaotic, Skopyk notes they are operating within the lives of “people whose lives are chaotic.”
“So we have to manoeuvre a little differently,” she says.
She notes a lot of those who come to Mission United haven’t necessarily been accessing healthcare in the “traditional way.”
“They come here and they haven’t been seen by a healthcare provider in a long time,” she explains. “So we’re having to work within that, and also in the context of not having a lot of collateral information.”
Skopyk considers the project a success, and says she wants to continue their work at Mission United even after the pandemic has come to an end.
“I’d absolutely love to continue with my whole heart. We’re all in it,” she says. “We’ve been really trying to get to this group for some time, and we really wanted to do a primary approach… we want to be there now, and also want to be there when things get to a different point, and create an opportunity for dignity and comfort.”
Doreen Hume McKenna, the regional housing coordinator for Durham Mental Health, says her role with Mission United is to help develop a system that meets the needs and fills the gaps for those using their services.
She says her team began working with Mission United at the end of April, and they put together the safe sleep area, and engage those using the facilities.
“Often people will come with one thing, and as we talk to them we find that there are other things that we might be able to assist them with here,” she explains.
Hume McKenna says they’ve been gradually adding other services at Mission United, pointing to Ontario Works, Pinewood, and others which have joined since the project began.
Overall, Hume McKenna says Mission United has been “hugely successful.”
“The GAP Committee has been meeting for the last year or so… and one of the things that they had identified a year ago was that there was really a need for a hub… where people can come for services,” she says.
She notes transportation is a “huge issue” for people, especially in the winter, and providing a hub gives them somewhere which can meet all of their needs.
Hume McKenna says she is hopeful Mission United can continue after the COVID-19 pandemic has come to an end.
“It’s not duplicating any other services. What we have are other services starting to co-locate here in order to be where the people who have no phones and no computers are coming,” she says.
According to Hume McKenna, Mission United is what Durham’s homeless need right now.
“Over the last four months, doors have been closed,” she says. “It’s a need that was identified before COVID, and it will be an ongoing need that will persist, and so I hope that we can maintain it, and we’re certainly working to try and make that happen.”
Mission United is located at the Back Door Mission and Simcoe Street United Church, 66 Simcoe St. S., and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with daily meals from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information visit https://www.backdoormission.ca/.