For those seeking support, the Wellspring Family Resource and Crisis Centre offers outreach programs for adults and youth. The Adult & Youth Outreach program is confidential and available for women, men and youth in the community and surrounding communities. "It's not gender-based at all, and I think it's important that people realize that. It's for anybody that needs help," explained Becky Wells, executive director of Wellspring.
"Yes, our focus is on domestic violence. However, there's so much more than that. It can be that they need help going to an appointment or advocating or understanding what is happening. There has been a lot of changes in the way the government does things. Look at Alberta Works; they no longer allow you to walk in there and see a person, which is unfortunate because I think that's a huge barrier for many individuals. Getting that first appointment to get help is now a phone call. There are so many things that COVID has changed for individuals that are in that situation where they need immediate help."
Until five or six years ago, Wells said that one employee handled the caseload for anyone who called their outreach, but funding from the provincial government, which continues each year, has enabled her to bring on more people. "I have three employees that do it. COVID impacted it a bit, but they are still busy. They are still able to meet people outside. I have someone for Youth Outreach, and then I have two other ladies for Adult Outreach. I think the government sees the need, and I think they saw this as prevention, and I think it has made a huge difference. They saw the impacts that prevention can do."
Wells said that clients could lean on them as long as they need. "The idea with outreach is that eventually, they have the supports in place where we are not needed. That's the goal, is to make sure they are supported for whatever that is for each individual." She said that not everyone wants to come into a shelter and that sometimes they just need some help, a boost. Wells added that for women seeking help, entering a shelter still has some stigma, which is unfortunate. "We are trying to take those stigmas away. I can't wait until we can get our new building going because that will impact how we deliver some of our services. We will be able to put people into our apartments because a lot of our clients get blacklisted from other renters."
She explained that maybe a bad experience convinced a renter to ban those who have stayed at a shelter. Not everyone does it, but some do. "I can't speak for all of them, but you can't just judge a person by one bad apple. I think that sometimes there is a stigma that they will be addicts or will be trouble, and that's often not the case." That's one of the reasons why the outreach program is essential.
"It's about having that extra person to be supported by, and I think that makes a huge difference for anyone needing help. Not everyone knows who to turn to, so we like to think outside the box. Whatever it is that they need, we are there for them. Maybe they are having a hard time this month, and they need groceries. We can send them to the food bank or get them some gift cards. If they don't have a phone because that can be a barrier, we have phones here that we can give to clients. Those are some of the things we do. I think often it's just about being heard. That validation that they will be ok is important to hear. Or talking to someone who knows what they are going through. I know that they will go to court and sit with them or help fill out forms. Whatever that person needs is the way we tailor our outreach."
Wells said that referrals come through schools, parents, or the youths themselves for the youth outreach. "It's another form of support. Meeting with our youth outreach worker and connecting and working on whatever goals the young person needs in their life. Maybe it's some education, or maybe they just need somebody to talk to. I can tell by how many clients she has that it's a really good program."
With the Boys and Girls Club no longer having their Teen Centre program, the outreach helps. "It's nice to see that the Allan & Jean Millar Centre is stepping up and doing some programming for kids. I think that's a positive thing because there isn't a ton of things for the youth in our community to do."
The youth advocate used to go into the schools pre-COVID. "Sometimes the schools will call if they have an issue like bad social media. It's for parents too because they often don't realize how social media has changed and how their kids are hiding stuff, such as on Snapchat. Parents don't always know that. It's unbelievable the stuff that goes on with social media and the youths."
Wells said that if they aren't the right place to provide the support needed, they will help individuals access what they need through other programs. The toll-free line is 1-800-467-4049, and the local number is 780-778-6209. You can also text at 780-778-1059, and emails can be sent through their website, www.whitecourtshelter.ca. Hours are typically Monday to Friday, but that doesn't mean things don't happen on the weekends. "They can always call the shelter if there is something they immediately need help with. Each outreach worker has their own cellphone so that they can get a hold of clients at any time."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press