2010 AGM Speech – Hope and Progress

Cathy Stigant, Board Chair

Oneness of World – Hearts
The madness of this world
Cannot be conquered
By the sadness or the power
Of the world,
But only by the oneness
Of the world – hearts
From: The Divine Hero by Sri Chinmoy

The Victoria Cool Aid Society, together with its many partners, has been delivering hope for 42 years – hope is about trust, reliance, belief in aspiration, belief in fulfilment. Cool Aid has been at the heart of the community responding to need which provides hope for individuals and families, hope for the community, and hope for a better tomorrow. We do it in partnership with you – our amazing staff, dedicated volunteers, generous donors, community partners and government funders.

Hearts have indeed been opened in Victoria and our Capital Regional District.

Thank you all for coming out today and supporting Cool Aid. It has been a great honour for me to serve as Chair of the Victoria Cool Aid Society.  Thank you so very much for your support, collaboration and confidence in our work.

When I joined Cool Aid’s Board of Directors in 2003, we had an organization that:

  • Employed 120 people
  • Was accountable for a budget of $8 million
  • Managed 149 modest apartments
  • Facilitated emergency shelters accommodation for 70 residents in two locations.

We had recently inherited the small Resources, Education, Employment and Support Centre – REES, a mental health and employment program, and, the Community Health Centre and Dental Clinic were in cramped quarters, sandwiched between the Streetlink shelter and Swift House.

During the last seven years, Cool Aid has made measurable, steady progress in building capacity to meet the needs of our community and thus increase hopefulness for a better tomorrow.  By the end of the year, 2010, our business at Cool Aid will have effectively doubled. Now that gives me great hope!
Today:

  • Our working family consists of 220 employees.
  • Our budget for 2010 is projected at $15 million.
  • While we now house 256 adults, this will grow to 338 upon completion of our current projects.
  • We now provide shelter, meals and help for more than 120 persons per day.
  • Since our move the professionals at Access Health Centre Cool Aid are able to provide direct health care: medical, pharmacological and dental, as well as health care counselling services to hundreds more patients than we could in 2003.
  • We provide employment and mental health services for hundreds each month through the much in demand and very successful REES Program.

Given our proven success and acknowledged expertise, key management of our organization is invited to participate in forums to provide leadership at the local level, as well as provincially and nationally. Cool Aid programs are studied and emulated throughout BC and elsewhere. We frequently tour people from out of town who have come to learn from our program managers and our experience. We are also known as a research leader on housing and homelessness.

Measuring success since 2003 is about increasing our capacity to house people and expand our services. In review, this consists of:

  • Opening Hillside Terrace, Cedar Grove and Desmond House. Thanks to support and funding from BC Housing and VIHA, Cool Aid is now providing supportive housing for 93 more adults, including 45 seniors, who might otherwise be without homes.
  • The Next Steps Transitional Shelter opened with funding from the United Way and BC Housing two years ago. Next Steps provides a great opportunity for 15 shelter residents, at a time, to find market housing, health supports, employment and income.
  • Our REES Program re-located this year to a larger space adjacent to the Access Health Centre, and is now able to help 100 clients every day with their employment and mental health challenges. It is also home to the popular Every Step Counts running program, envisioned and funded by the Victoria Foundation.
  • Together with our partner AIDS Vancouver Island, and thanks to generous funding and donations from the Capital Regional Hospital District, VIHA, the BC Government, many of you here today, and hundreds of others, we opened the Access Health Centre last September.
  • Over 6,000 patients and clients are now receiving care from a team of health care professionals dedicated to our clients.
  • The opening of the Pandora Thrift Shop this year, with the leadership of Beacon Community Services, has provided a great opportunity for our clients to get retail work experience, and created a new source of affordable items downtown, for many on low incomes.

The Cool Aid story, the story of our responding to need in our community, is still being written – and it is a story of positive developments and positive outcomes. Participating as a volunteer on the Board of Cool Aid has been a significant personal commitment for me and for my fellow Board volunteers. Governing the organization is very rewarding work but it is also very frustrating. To see Cool Aid’s proven ability to respond to opportunity and to build capacity has been exciting and satisfying, but to see that our significant increase in capacity can only respond to a small part of the real need is heart wrenching. How frustrating for us all to see growing unmet need on the street, and for our dedicated staff to experience dead end options related to affordable housing when working with people who want to make a change in their lives.

That being said, there is progress being made this year. If you have been in Rock Bay lately, you may have noticed a new beacon of hope for many – the Ellice Street shelter and transitional housing will open in the fall. In addition to 83 shelter beds, Ellice Street will add the first two units of family shelter in Greater Victoria, and an additional 23 modest, transitional apartments for adults looking for permanent housing.

The shelter’s move into the Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood will also make room for 23 new, supportive housing units in downtown Victoria – providing 23 adults with the opportunity for a new life in the old shelter location.

This year will also see the completion of our first housing project in Saanich. Olympic Vista, located on Carey Road, will be Cool Aid’s third seniors building, and will provide a variety of support services for 36 seniors who otherwise might have no home. Olympic Vista will open early next year.

Thank you Saanich and the Capital Regional Hospital District.

The services provided, in partnership with others, saves millions of dollars every year, by reducing the demands on emergency services such as hospital beds, policing, courts, lawyers and emergency room visits. At the same time, hundreds of lives are improved every year and the whole community’s quality of life gets better.

Together with you, our mandate is to house and support those who are homeless; to ensure results on the Capital Region’s homelessness crisis; and to prevent homelessness from occurring in the future.

We have all joined together in the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness because we have hope. Because we know that solutions are better, and more cost effective, than the status quo.

Each year since 2003 Cool Aid has been able to take positive steps forward based on the opportunities available– providing new hope for the future. I am immensely proud to have been a part of this organization and the ongoing trust given to us to manage resources and provide services to help individuals facing mental health and addiction challenges, poverty and homelessness.

Given my experience over the last 7 years with Cool Aid, I am incredibly hopeful that together we will end homelessness. It is about having the heart to sustain our commitment, treat everyone in our community with dignity and ensure that there is hope for a better future.

With your help and partnership, we have provided practical hope and support for thousands of the most vulnerable individuals in our community.

You give us hope.