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For our final instalment in recognition of mental health awareness week, The Ottawa Mission is very pleased to bring you the story of the work of our dedicated Coordinator of Mental Health Services Jordanna Marchand.

Key to Jordanna’s work with clients is addressing the stigma surrounding both homelessness and living with a mental health condition. “The stigma for each of these circumstances is heavy and so our clients are doubly burdened, which makes it very difficult for them to ask for help,” she notes. “This is particularly the case for men who are homeless with mental health conditions since men are often socialized to take care of their own problems and not to ask for help.”

Building and sustaining rapport with clients is essential to lessening the grip of stigma and supporting them. Jordanna notes the importance of warmth, reliability, consistency and showing an interest in the details of clients’ lives as ways to build and maintain rapport.

Acknowledgement of larger societal issues that affect clients and their journey into homelessness and mental health conditions is also crucial. “Many shelter clients with mental health conditions have experienced poverty, a lack of affordable housing, violence, nowhere to go after exiting the child welfare system, discrimination due to their background, and many other issues. It’s important that we recognize these factors to let clients know that we understand the collective impact on their situation. This reduces feelings of isolation and empowers clients to work toward healthier and interdependent lives.”

Jordanna also works with partner organizations, including the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Royal Ottawa Hospital to support clients. The shelter has a fulltime CMHA caseworker who engages with clients with severe mental health conditions who need specialized support and intensive engagement. A part-time psychiatric nurse with the ROH’s outreach team works within the Mission and Jordanna supports the referral of clients to the ROH’s outreach program to receive psychiatric services. Partnership in service provision is essential to meeting the mental health needs of the Mission’s clients given their diversity.

“Homelessness doesn’t discriminate and no one is immune to mental health issues. Our clients come from very diverse backgrounds: some are highly educated; some have come from high-profile professional careers; some are very talented artists. No matter who they are or where they come from, we owe them fundamental recognition of their human dignity and respect for their innate human rights, to which everyone is entitled by virtue of being human.”

Jordanna notes the strength of her clients in her daily work with them. “I’m very honoured that clients feel comfortable sharing the private aspects of their lives. It takes tremendous courage to disclose this information as part of working toward a healthier life. It’s my commitment to work with them in them in the most compassionate and supportive way that I can.”