Barkley Engel saw first-hand over the last two-and-a-half years, how the COVID-19 pandemic caused serious harm to the mental health and wellbeing of so many people here in Manitoba.
“This has been a very difficult 26-month period for a lot of people,” Engel, the founder and CEO of Turning Leaf Support Services said.
“Drug addiction has been on the rise, and there was just a lot of pain and a lot of isolation for a lot of people, so addiction and mental health issues have just been on a steady rise.”
On Thursday, Engel joined Turning Leaf employees, board members, volunteers, and others to officially open the organization’s new 18,000-square-foot head office and headquarters on Roseberry Street in Winnipeg.
According to Engel, Turning Leaf works with, and is often a first point of contact with those who are dealing with a mental health or mental health-related crisis, and he said a big part of that work is making sure people understand that they will be listened to and accepted, no matter their own situation or circumstances.
“Largely we work with people that are in crisis, so people dealing with homelessness or a mental health crisis, or addictions, or maybe they have been victimized, or are in the sex trade,” Engel said.
“Often we are the first people they call when there is a crisis, so we meet them right where they are at in their lives, and we treat them with what we call unconditional acceptance.
“We have no concerns about what they have done, or what might have been done to them.”
Mental health challenges rose across the country since the pandemic began, as according to a survey released by the Angus Reid Institute in March of 2022, 54% of surveyed Canadians said their mental health had “worsened” over the past two years.
And according to Engel, sometimes they can support those in crisis by simply sitting with them and listening to them.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of us sitting across from them with a coffee and listening, because sometimes when people get lost, all they want is to have someone they can talk to,” he said.
“And when they hear someone say, ‘we are here for you,’ it’s often a first step in that healing process.”
Other times, Engel said they realize that they need to be there to pull people out of dangerous and high-risk situations.
“Sometimes they need immediate safety, so that could be immediate housing and support, and sometimes they need to be taken out of the city, because of the risks affiliated with what they are engaged in,” he said.
With Turning Leaf offering a wide range of services and programs, Engel says the organization will now be better equipped to assist people, now that they are in their new 18,000-square-foot building, after previously working out of a building on Portage Avenue with just more than 5,000 square feet of space.
He said while employees will work in the building, it will also be a place that will welcome any and all people who feel they need support, or someone to turn to.
“This allows us all to be together including our participants, and this place means that all our participants that come here will have a new home away from home,” Engel said.
Thursday’s grand opening event included tours of the building, a ribbon-cutting, and an Urban Tipi Launch ceremony.
Anyone looking to inquire about Turning Leaf’s services or to seek support can call them in Winnipeg at 204-221-5594.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun