Tent City brings out the best in this year’s recipients of Mental Health Substance Use Community Service Awards

Victoria, B.C.- Kindness and compassion are ageless and secular. That’s what Island Health’s Mental Health Substance Use (MHSU) Advisory Committee discovered when considering nominations for its awards program. Both of this year’s recipients responded with dignity and fairness to the people who lived at Tent City.

A group of students and church members put others ahead of themselves and spent quality time investing in people who are living with mental illness. From simple gestures of welcoming new neighbours to a holiday feast for hundreds – the acts small and large made a significant difference in the lives of many. Their efforts are being rewarded as part of Mental Health Week.

Recipients of the second annual Recognition of Distinction in Community Service Award are École Central Middle School and Christ Church Cathedral.

“We are inspired by community groups of caring people who demonstrate the support, respect and inclusion that fosters the growth of healthy communities,” says Sharlene Law, chair of the MHSU Advisory Committee. The Committee includes people living with mental illness, family members and community service organizations.

Awards Presentations
9 a.m. Wednesday, May 3, 2017
École Central Middle School Gymnasium

Christ Church Cathedral for Tent City 

Tent City, on the lawns of Victoria’s courthouse, saw near daily media coverage of the many activities of the growing encampment. But there were no cameras or journalists on December 22, 2015 when one of the largest and most significant events took place. Members of Christ Church Cathedral and Tent City residents worked together to create a holiday feast and in the process tore down walls, assumptions, stigma and stereotypes to better connect and understand each other.

“It was a collaborative effort,” said Christ Church’s Canon Nancy Ford. “Campers set up and decorated tables, local hotels loaned us their ovens and people throughout our faith community and the community at large delivered contributions to this meal.” The donations were so abundant that leftovers were shared with two other local agencies.

Much more than meat and vegetables were shared that day. “We created liminal space,” explains Canon Ford. “A sense of a new beginning and we were all changed for this experience.”
Canon Ford adds recognition from Island Health award supports ongoing work at the church where faith leaders and congregation continue to look at community integration and specifically the cathedral’s role in providing safe and supportive places for all.

École Central Middle School Students for My Place

When Tent City was dismantled, several short-term housing solutions were created including My Place, across the street from École Central Middle School. While some area residents raised concerns, students at Central welcomed their new neighbours. Students made food at their school kitchen and delivered dinner to the residents of My Place in February 2016. Other social engagements between My Place and Central followed including a BBQ. Students also collected donations – socks, toiletries, etc. – and filled backpacks for their new neighbours.

“Students studying social justice began our Faces of Victoria project, meeting with a diversity of people, learning first-hand about the challenges they face from housing to addictions and mental health issues, and the things they celebrate like music, volunteering, love and community,” said Alan Barwin, Grade 8 teacher at École Central Middle School. “The stories they collected were shared on social media, incorporating course curriculum with valuable real-life lessons in empathy and the many variables that shape lives.”

“We are so pleased to recognize our community partners at Central Middle School and Christ Church Cathedral,” said Lauren Fox, Island Health representative on the MHSU Advisory Committee. “When we embrace inclusion and seek to understand others without judgment, we strengthen the bonds of humanity and allow everyone to grow together.”

Media Inquiries:

Sharlene Law
Umbrella Society Executive Director

Meribeth Burton
Island Health Media Relations