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Making a career out of helping people

Case Manager Michael Toffelmire Discusses What Work is Like at The Ottawa Mission

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work for a nonprofit organization that’s working to help people in need? How does a career in social services impact the community?

Michael Toffelmire joined The Ottawa Mission’s team in 2014 as one of several case managers. He works specifically with long-term shelter residents, while other case managers work with those experiencing homelessness out in the community, or with men who have recently been booked into the shelter.

His office is in the Client Services building, which is attached to the larger shelter. We caught up with Michael to learn about what it’s like to work at a shelter for men.

Tell us a little bit about your role at The Ottawa Mission.

My role is to work with men who have been at the shelter for a few weeks or more and may be here a little bit longer-term. I work with them on their specific goals, whether they need help with their finances, obtaining their ID, or getting connected with mental health services, housing supports, and getting connected to community supports.

Is there a set amount of time that you work with a single client?

Basically, I can work with them as long as they require the service, so there’s no set time limit to it. If they feel they have goals they want to work on, I’m here to help them for as long as they need.

How many clients are you generally working with at a time?

Each case manager on our team carries a pretty heavy caseload, and at any given time it will vary. Usually it’ll be around 30 to 35 people.

How do you stay on top of every client’s specific needs and keep track of where they are at?

I think I just approach it one step at a time—it’s pretty manageable and it’s exciting, too, when a client has a very challenging goal to work on. I kind of joke sometimes that we work as “private investigators” to figure out what services are available to them to help them meet their goals.

What does assessing a client’s needs look like?

We start by focusing on the clients’ priorities and their immediate needs. Then we begin the work to help them become more self-sufficient and independent. Every client’s path is different and takes its own amount of time.

How open are clients to the support you offer?

The services we offer are optional to clients. Because we’re a voluntary service, it is the individual’s choice to accept the assistance. I sometimes experience clients who have a difficult time asking for help, so I seek them out and meet with them in the hopes of connecting them to support and services. This is often well received and appreciated by them, since we try to make it as easy as possible to connect and help.

Once a person has accepted the support, it becomes a very positive experience to work on their objectives. It’s the most rewarding part to see success in their daily lives by achieving their own personal goals.

Do you put a lot of time into research?

Absolutely. Ottawa is a pretty diverse city in terms of what supports are available. For example, at The Mission, we have an array of services on hand which are accessible to people that come through our doors like Employment, Education, Housing, Addiction and Trauma, and Mental Health support.

Our community also offers a ton of resources which our clients can benefit from, or that we are missing. My goal is to research the best and most appropriate resources and to connect my clients to them. They might not know of these services or how to connect with them. I also want to make sure the resources will be a good fit for clients.

Do your clients ever have trouble getting here?

One of the biggest challenges that I find when a client has to travel for a service is transportation. Because of the affordability of travel in Ottawa, bus travel is expensive and, depending on a client’s source of income, they might not qualify for a bus pass.

Since many of The Mission’s clients live in the downtown area, it is usually more feasible to connect them with services that are within walking distance.

How do you deal with barriers to travel?

What I’ll try and do is remove that transportation barrier for them, like connecting them to services which are close by or Para Transpo. If there’s no other option available, I can temporarily provide them with bus tickets or whatever it is they need.

Are there any challenges you encounter on a regular basis, either personally or when it comes to working with clients?

I find one of the biggest challenges when helping clients is finding safe, affordable, and appropriate housing options within Ottawa. If somebody wants to move on from The Mission quickly, finding housing can be a huge barrier. We work hard with the services in the community with the hope that we can pool our resources to find housing for everyone, but it sometimes takes time and it can be difficult.

What are some housing barriers that are specific to Ottawa?

Besides the lack of safe, affordable housing that many communities across Canada deal with, we see men struggle to find housing in Ottawa because some landlords want student renters, or “female only” renters. That makes it very difficult for middle-aged people, and especially men, that are in that zone where they’re not young enough to qualify for student housing, or what’s being offered to students, and they’re not old enough for seniors’ housing. They can’t find anything that’s affordable.

Is there anything you’d like to share that people aren’t aware about The Mission?

I’ve heard from many people over the years that they don’t know what services are available at The Mission. Many people assume that we’re just a shelter and that we provide a warm place for people to stay for the night and a healthy meal, but the reality is, as our logo says, we’re “more than a shelter.” There are many services here that people can access, whether they’re staying at the shelter or not.

From the outside, we look like a couple of buildings, but on the inside there’s this heart and soul running throughout the place. We work really hard to lift the spirits of the people that are coming through our doors. We have front-line services, client services, food services, a healthcare team, volunteer services, addiction services, and we’re all working together to help people who need support in our community.

Our priority is our clients’ safety, well-being, and a move towards independence. I approach every client with a sense of hope and dignity. My hope is to inspire them to accept the help for a healthier and more satisfied life.

The Client Services building has an open-door policy during office hours, so anybody can walk in that needs help.

The staircases in client services is the first step in receiving services at our Ottawa shelter for men

William’s Transformation

William is reaching an important milestone just before Christmas this year.  On December 21 he will be 50.  While this is special on its own, there is so much more that he will be celebrating this year.   Because William’s life has truly been transformed – in more ways than one.

It began on June 16 when William attended the graduation ceremony for The Ottawa Mission’s Food Services Training Program (FSTP) to celebrate a friend who was part of the class.  During the ceremony, a former graduate spoke glowingly about the program, but also about the help he received from The Mission with education programs for mature students.  For William, learning about the FSTP and all of the other services available at The Mission was a revelation.

William’s life journey to this point had been marked by an unhappy family life, time in foster care, limited access to education, periods of homelessness, and unemployment.  Sitting in the audience that day, all he could see ahead were possibilities – especially since he had always loved cooking – so he applied, and was accepted into the next FSTP class.  He has earned top marks so far and is also busy working with staff at our Stepping Stones Learning Centre to accumulate credits that will earn him his high school diploma.  And there’s more!

This Thursday, November 17 William and his classmates will be showcasing their newly acquired cooking skills at our FSTP Gala evening that runs from 6-8:30 p.m.   Guest will be treated to some wonderful gourmet food, and they will also have a chance to get to know the students, especially William, who has been chosen to speak at the event.

William’s heart is filled with gratitude for the way his life has changed in such a short time, and he extends that gratitude everyone at The Mission and to all those who support our work.

There are still a few tickets available for the Gala.  If you are interested, call us at 613-234-1144 or email


School is out, the weather is great, and the first long weekend of the summer is upon us. Many of us will be getting together to celebrate Canada Day with family and friends.

Peter will be spending the long weekend at The Ottawa Mission – and he is so grateful for the gifts of food, shelter and support that he will be receiving.

Peter has been living on a disability income for many years. He has no family to help him, so he has been living alone in a small apartment and trying to make ends meet. After paying his rent, he often had little left over for food, so he often came to us for meals over the years, and we got to know him well.

Last month Peter’s rent was suddenly increased, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay in his apartment. He was desperate and didn’t know what to do, so he came to us for help. Our staff is working hard to find Peter a safe and affordable place to live, but in the meantime he will stay with us.

Because of the generous support of our donors, our doors are always open for people like Peter in their time of greatest need. The long weekend need not be so long after all.

Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page

A special Graduation at The Ottawa Mission

June is ‘graduation’ season for many families in the community and one of the highlights of the calendar this month  at The Ottawa Mission is a special graduation celebration we hold for the men and women in our Food Services Training Program.

This week, 9 people completed the 5 month commitment to the culinary program. Chef Ric Watson, who oversees the Mission kitchen, maintains there’s much more involved in the FSTP than just teaching people to cook. In his words, “this program builds self-esteem and confidence, which are fundamental to success in any career.”

Sheldon can vouch for that. He is one of the graduates this week and says this program has made a huge difference in his life. Sheldon has always liked to cook but says “it was the Food Services Training Program that ignited my passion and gave me a goal. My plan now is to become a red seal Chef – it may take me a few years, but I have a purpose and life is back on track.”

Sheldon has already found a new full time job, working in the busy kitchen of the Lord Elgin Hotel and he says he couldn’t be happier there.

The Food Services Training Program has touched many lives in the past 11 years and thanks to the continued support from the community, it will continue to change lives like Sheldon’s in years to come.

Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page

Hunger doesn’t take a holiday

As the summer months approach, many of us are making plans for vacation, visits to the cottage, or simply sitting in our backyard with a good book.  But for people who turn to The Ottawa Mission for help, the summer months are just like any other time of the year.  They are hungry and hurting and have nowhere else to turn.  Our 235 beds are full almost every night and, along with the people staying here, there are many others in the community that also count on us for help every day.
John is just one example.

John is in his 50’s and lives alone in a small, subsidized apartment. He hasn’t had full-time work in a few years and although he can afford to pay his rent, there is often little left over for food.  That’s why he has been coming to The Mission for occasional meals for the past couple of years. Many of the staff and volunteers at The Mission know John by name and he feels welcome.  The nutritious meals we are able to serve him also helps maintain his health.   We consider him a member of our extended family, and he feels the same way about us.  He knows we care about him.

It’s through your generosity that The Mission is able to do as much as possible to make sure that John and so many others like him receive healthy meals and friendship – and never have to feel that they are alone – during the summertime and all year round.  If you would like to make a gift to help this summer, please call 613-234-1155, or donate at
On behalf of John, we thank you.


Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page

Seeing is Believing

This past week we held a very special event at The Ottawa Mission and invited interested volunteers and donors to come for a visit to our shelter.

We call this annual event “Walking Together” because we know that the people we serve – the hungry, those recovering from addiction, people looking for work and a place to live – share their journeys with the volunteers and donors who support them. We wanted to thank them and give them an “up close and personal” look at all aspects of the programs we can offer because of their generosity.

For many, even long time volunteers, this was a really eye opening experience. One volunteer who has been helping us prepare and serve meals for many years had never been off the main floor of The Mission. He had never visited the clothing room, the medical and dental clinics, the dorm rooms, or the client services centre. The experience, he says, was a real education.

For the donors who attended, many had never visited The Mission at all. Not only had they not seen the areas of the shelter mentioned above, but they didn’t realize how many programs and services are open to anyone in the community who is in need. As one donor, Micheline Dubé, said, “I didn’t realize that the 1,300 meals served every day at The Mission are available not just to people staying at the shelter, but to anyone who is hungry. And learning more about the hospice, that it serves both men and women, and seeing just how clean and comfortable it is, was a heartwarming experience. What I’ve seen today gives me confidence that my donations are being invested very wisely.”

We thank everyone who took the time to visit yesterday, as we thank them for their ongoing support as volunteers and donors. We simply couldn’t do what we do without them. And we know that for all who attended, seeing is indeed believing.

If you are interested in visiting The Mission, we would love to welcome you! Please contact us by phone at 613-234-1155 or by email at

Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page


The Ottawa Mission`s Stepping Stones Learning Centre is a small room on the top floor of our Client Services Centre located next to the main shelter. It`s not a formal `classroom` but rather a place where men and women can find support for a number of different educational hurdles – whether it`s completing online courses towards a high school diploma, or getting help with basic literacy. But education is much more than a textbook, and Stepping Stones is also a place where people can connect with our community in a social way. The French Club is just one example.

Every Wednesday afternoon at Stepping Stones you can hear the laughter mixed with beginner French pouring out of the classroom. The French Club meets weekly to learn basic French grammar skills and vocabulary. After the two teachers – SSLC’s teacher teamed with a Francophone tutor – introduce the theme of the day, and the new phrases have been practiced, the students get the opportunity to speak in their second language. Even more exciting, they play games that highlight key terminology regarding subjects such as the weather, food and eating, transportation and more.

During each eight week session, the students are invited on a field trip. Outings such as visiting “la cabane à sucre” or “La Musée de l’Aviation et de l’Espace du Canada” are so much fun. This week, the students had the opportunity to have “un pique-nique” followed by a concert of Broadway and jazz music put on by the Statistics Canada Choir at Tunney’s Pasture. Fantastique!!

Activities such as these can help people in shelters, or people ‘at-risk’ of homelessness, form new interests and friendships, and gain much needed self-confidence. They also give people a sense of being part of the community. For all of these reasons, they make a big difference in the lives of those who often have very little to look forward to.

Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page

Joel’s Hunger for a Good Life

Imagine a childhood marked by family instability, abuse and years in foster care. For Joel this was a sad reality.

By the age of 16, when Joel took to the streets, he had been through a lot. Even though his most recent foster home had been a good one, the years had taken their toll. But Joel wasn’t prepared to build a life on his own at such a young age, and he fell into addiction.

Joel spent many years in and out of shelters – including stays at The Ottawa Mission. It wasn’t until two years ago, now in his mid-forties, that he decided he really wanted – and needed – to make some major changes. He knew The Mission well by now, so he came to us for help.

Joel has since completed 3 months in our Stabilization unit, and 5 months in LifeHouse – our residential treatment program. He also spent about a year in one of our second stage transitional homes.

When it was time to move on, Joel worked with our housing support team who helped him find and furnish a bachelor apartment. Joel has now been living in his own place for more than four months, and he couldn’t be happier. He shares his apartment with a good companion – a cat named Molly – and, as he continues his recovery, he looks forward to returning to work in restaurant kitchen construction.

A wonderful footnote to Joel’s story is that he has reconnected with the foster mom who has been looking for him for over 30 years, and he is also rebuilding some family relationships that he thought were broken forever. He is also grateful for the ongoing support of his wife Linda. The final word goes to Joel – “I was hungry for a good life, and I’m on my way to achieving it. I finally have something to look forward to – I have hope.”

Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page

GET LOUD for Mental Health Week

You’ll be hearing a lot about ‘GETTING LOUD’ in the next few days.

Monday marks the start of Canadian Mental Health Week and the Canadian Mental Health Association – an important partner of The Ottawa Mission – wants us to GET LOUD. It means speaking up to stop the discrimination and the stigma that often go hand in hand with mental illness.

People who come to The Ottawa Mission for help are already dealing with the stigma of being homeless. It can be overwhelming for them to ask for help with mental health issues when they first arrive at the shelter. We see a wide spectrum of mental health issues – from depression and anxiety to some of the less common, serious illnesses like schizophrenia.

That’s why The Mission is pleased to announce that it has recently enhanced mental health services for shelter residents. Thanks to our partnership with CMHA, we can now provide people in need with access to a full time staff person with expertise in mental health issues.  She will help people with complex needs receive the support and assistance they need to be able to live healthier, more independent lives.

As well, The Ottawa Mission is also benefitting from a partnership with the Royal Ottawa Hospital Outreach team. The ROH is now providing a part-time psychiatric nurse to enhance the mental health services it’s providing to residents of the The Mission.

Jordanna Marchand is The Mission’s full-time Coordinator of Mental Health Services. “Because of the diversity of people and needs at The Ottawa Mission, it’s imperative we establish working partnerships with agencies that have expertise in metal health support“ says Jordanna. “We strive to help shelter residents navigate through whatever crisis they are in and to help them feel valued, respected and understood throughout the process.”

Thanks to our great community partners we will GET LOUD for Canadian Mental health Week – we hope you will too.

Lend a Helping Hand of Your Own, Visit Our Volunteer Ottawa Page

Leadercast shines the light on leadership and helping people in need

How do you define leadership? How does one become a better leader? These are questions that everyone asks at one time or another – whether in a professional or personal context.

The Ottawa Mission is proud to be a beneficiary of an upcoming event focusing on leadership, called Leadercast®.  This one-day event on Friday, May 6th will give you the chance to hear firsthand from several well-known leaders from around the world.

Keynote speakers include, among others, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; Leadership expert and best-selling author Dr. Henry Cloud; and President of Focus Brands, Kat Cole.  Their inspiring speeches will be broadcast LIVE from Atlanta, Georgia to hundreds of people watching around the world, including here Ottawa.

Leadercast 2016 will focus on what it means to be a ‘visionary leader’ – someone who works tirelessly to empower those around them to bring a vision to life.  The Ottawa Mission’s leaders – whether they’re on the Board of Directors or the management team – work towards the vision that one day in the future everyone will have access to a home of their own. What’s more, proceeds from Leadercast will go towards providing more mental health supports to people in need including clients of The Mission.

Some of the capital’s leading organizations have bought a table at the upcoming Leadercast event at ottawa’s Hellenic Centre. There’s still time to book your seat at Ottawa’s leadership table – go to for tickets and all the details.