Back to Blog


As we progress through Mental Health Awareness Week, The Ottawa Mission is proud to bring you our second instalment of stories concerning our amazing mental health, trauma and addiction program staff, who work in partnership with our clients to meet their goals.

Jess Golden is our Stabilization Co-ordinator. This program is the mid-point of the suite of Addiction and Trauma Services following the Day and HOPE programs. It is for men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness who have an addiction and want to maintain abstinence, stabilize their lives, and develop a healthier lifestyle. The program supports clients to develop an individual treatment plan to reach their long-term goals.

A low-barrier 30-day program with 13 beds and the potential for an extension to bridge the wait time for a continued residential treatment program, to enter Stabilization, participants must be abstinent for 24 hours as the first stage of treatment. It is unique among ATS programs across Ottawa and beyond in that it accepts clients who may be taking medications to manage their conditions, or who may be on bail and facing outstanding charges.

Jess notes the importance of acknowledging trauma at the root of addiction. This is critical to therapeutic interventions within the program to help clients establish a sense of safety, grounding skills and emotional regulation, all of which are key to learning new coping skills.

“Trauma is an individual response to something that happens to you, such as violence, or something that doesn’t happen to you, such as neglect. You don’t have to justify your trauma or your response. Given the role of trauma in addictions, it’s critical that clients understand how trauma impacts them, why they developed an addiction, and how to state their needs as they progress through the program.”

From February to October 2017, 53 clients completed the program, which has a success rate of 60 – 70% on average. Jess points out the impact of trauma on the mind and body, and how difficult it can be to stop an addiction as part of a long-term coping strategy. “Previous estimates of how many attempts are needed to quit smoking were around 6 to 7 times before people were successful; more current estimates indicate that it may be as high as 30 times for some people. So we should keep this in mind when we consider why some clients may need to repeat this program.”

Jess is also a leader in the ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) program, a suicide first aid program which teaches participants to recognize when someone may have suicidal thoughts and how to work with them to create a plan that supports their immediate safety. She works within the Mission and more broadly across the shelter system in Ottawa to train colleagues.

Jess notes the critical role of addressing stigma in her work through the practice of unconditional positive regard. “Homelessness, addiction and suicidal ideation can happen to anyone. Some of the smartest, bravest and most creative people I know have been through this program. We need to tackle the stigma that affects them, and accept and support them regardless of what the person says or does. This helps clients to accept themselves, believe in themselves, and take responsibility for a better future.”