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Community-based care reaching people before their breaking point

4 MIN READ

Story highlights 

  • Thanks to a foundation laid by United Way East Ontario and the Community Development Framework (CDF) years ago, hundreds of residents are stepping up to ensure those facing barriers in their communities have access to resources they need. 
  • Fatima has only been in Canada for a couple of years but became a resident leader and says the Community Development Framework as helped her as much as it has helped the community. 
  • We work with frontline mental health and addictions services across Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County, and Renfrew County to ensure people have access to timely and culturally appropriate care. 
  • In 2023 alone, the CDF had 165,000 contacts with community members through its resident leaders. 

When Fatima saw how many folks in her community were struggling with their mental health and having a hard time accessing services, the Community Development Framework (CDF) gave her the tools to create change. 

She’s now one of almost 300 resident leaders across Ottawa who are connecting with their neighbours to create spaces of belonging and reduce isolation, which helps improve people’s overall wellbeing before a crisis. 

United Way East Ontario has been a partner of the CDF since its inception in 2005. Back in 2012, we helped them build and launch an initiative called Creating the Change We Want. It trained residents and brought together community developers to address the most important issues affecting Ottawa neighbourhoods.  

That program laid the foundation for the CDF’s current Resident Leaders program. 

Through the CDF, community developers work in low-income neighborhoods. Alongside volunteers, they host events and activities to engage people who want to be involved in their community and find out what residents want to see in their areas.  

“We’ve been hearing a lot about the concern of mental health and substance use crises,” says Tammy Corner, Coordinator of the CDF. “People will step forward and say, I want to do something about that. Then that’s where we said we can do some training to support you as a mental wellbeing peer supporter, and then have some resources so you can host activities.” 

“We want to achieve the goal of creating healthy communities, healthy individuals, and responsive and accessible services, supports, and systems.”

Resident leaders breaking down barriers for those struggling with mental health

Fatima is an international medical graduate from Pakistan who was aiming to pursue a residency in psychiatry. After moving to Ottawa, she found she really wanted to work in mental health. She moved into an Ottawa Community Housing building with her two kids and says the need for services in her community was immediately apparent. 

“For somebody like me, I would love to go support people, but I need certain training to approach them,” says Fatima. “Certain times, I would want to talk to people or people would want to talk to me, but we don’t know how to start that conversation. And I think getting those trainings, through [the Resident Leaders] program, helped me to make that connection with people, to talk to them in that way, to realize that somebody would need help.” 

Fatima says she noticed a lack of information on mental health resources in her community even before she connected with the CDF. This gap was especially difficult for residents who were newcomers to Canada. 

“Those who have language barriers, they wanted to go out and get some help, but they don’t know where to navigate the resources from. That is one of the reasons why it was important for me to get the help from this program.”

Tammy says resident leader peers know their neighbours, they’re trusted, and they can relate to them. They can host activities where they help reduce isolation, provide safe spaces for conversations, and get people connected to services when that’s needed. 

“I remember one of the participants mentioning to me after a collaborative painting activity, that the activity acted like therapy for her because she was able to come out in the community and get the support she needed,” explains Fatima.  

She says the number of people coming out and participating in the activities she’s running is going up because they feel safe and heard, and it’s creating harmony within her community. 

“[This program] has helped me as much as it has helped the community because I got to know my neighbours better and I got to make a lot of new friends here which is amazing.”

Continuing to help those in need by building sense of community

Although COVID-19 doesn’t affect our lives in the same way as it once did, many people are still dealing with the fallout from the isolation and anxiety of the last few years. Tammy notes that many people are still nervous to come out to events, and she sees poverty deepening with growing inequities related to food security and housing. These challenges are further deteriorating mental health.  

Often, people experiencing the worst mental health also face barriers in getting help. When there aren’t enough places that feel safe, speak your language, or reflect your identity, it’s hard to know where to turn. Marginalized groups like Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized communities, 2SLGBTQ+ people, and those living in poverty are more likely to experience these challenges. 

“It's so important that we have these place-based, culturally relevant, equity focused community development approaches that engage residents living in neighborhoods who are trusted, that know their neighbours and can see when they're struggling, isolating, or not doing well. They can reduce their isolation by reaching out to them and creating social spaces where they can gather and feel a sense of community and belonging.”

That’s why we work with frontline mental health and addictions services across Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County, and Renfrew County to ensure people have access to timely and culturally appropriate care. 

In 2023 alone, Tammy says the CDF had 165,000 contacts with community members through its resident leaders.

When you support United Way, you are enabling us to work with our partners to reduce mental health and substance use crises so that people can enjoy better health and wellbeing in their community.  
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