Initiatives helping people experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges earn Island Health awards

In conjunction with Mental Health Week, Island Health is recognizing two individuals for their efforts to create meaningful change for people struggling with mental health and substance use challenges. Niki Ottosen, the creator of an initiative to help people living without homes and Emily Olsen, the founder of a mental health platform to support, educate and destigmatize mental health issues are the winners of Island Health’s 2023 Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) Community Service Awards.

Ottosen and Olsen were presented their awards today at Royal Jubilee Hospital by the MHSU South Island Advisory Committee during Mental Health Week. 

“I’m inspired by the many people in British Columbia that are stepping up to provide help and compassion to those who are struggling,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Congratulations to the award recipients for being leaders in their communities and creating supports that are making a meaningful difference in people’s lives.” 

For the last 14 years, Ottosen’s Backpack Project has delivered donations of mutual aid and humanitarian aid such as tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes and food, to members of our community who live without homes. The supplies are donated from concerned compassionate community members who live all throughout the region. Ottosen is guided by her belief that no one should be without a home and that everyone in our community deserves safe, secure, affordable housing.

Olsen created the Connection Project Society in 2018 to facilitate events and provide online resources for mental health. Their annual Mental Health Storytelling event provides a unique and powerful platform for people to share their personal stories and experiences related to mental health. The Mental Health Storytelling event, which takes place in SET,TINES, Sidney, BC on W̱SÁNEĆ Territory, allows people to share their stories through various forms of artistic expression such as storytelling, music, dance, and more. 

“Those living with mental wellness concerns face significant challenges every day. Our two recipients have shown so much kindness, willingness and an unwavering tenacity to help people and have touched so many lives in our community in the most positive ways.” said Marion Gibson, chair of the MHSU South Island Advisory Committee.

The MHSU South Island Advisory Committee identifies community members who make a difference in the lives of people with mental health and substance use challenges. It also purchases artwork from artists with lived experience to present to the award recipients.