Behind The Front Desk with Frontline

“We want to make sure that people don’t leave without an answer,” says Leo, a member of our Frontline Services team.  As the operational hub of our organization and first point of contact for those in need, Frontline can field a broad range of questions:

  • I can’t sleep outside tonight; do you have a bed?
  • My friend is overdosing outside; can you help them?
  • Do you have any extra pairs of clean socks?
  • How do I get on a list for supportive housing?

A lot is asked of our Frontline team. While on-shift and sitting behind The Mission’s front desk, Frontline’s Leo, Dominique, and Hegmann offer some insight into their roles.

“We aim to provide a safe environment for everyone. It may seem strict to some clients, but our protocols help keep everyone safe; especially those who are seeking treatment through our programs,” says Hegmann.

Frontline handles daily check-in and check-outs for shelter beds, keeping track of everyone while constantly monitoring the building and surrounding block to maintain safety and respond if anyone is in need.

When new arrivals check in, Frontline team members meet and connect them with program staff for any additional support needed beyond a warm bed and meal. After cracking a joke with a client who’s come up to the front desk, Leo shares:

“We work to build up a rapport, show clients that we’re here to help them, here to talk to them, and encourage them to use The Mission services that help them move on permanently.”

Frontline staff have many daily interactions with guests to help nurture that trust. They hand out toiletries and new clothing. They distribute lunches to-go, and warm up after-hour dinners for clients who leave for work each day, as ten percent of people who live at shelters in Ottawa are employed. While Leo and Hegmann explain all of this, Dominique is leaning over the front desk, quietly cleaning and bandaging a cut on a guest’s arm.

Sometimes, an impactful breakthrough might be made instantly, like during an emergency. Dominique recalls the time when she rushed outside to help a man who had fallen in the street. He appeared disoriented and had a deep gash on his head; serious enough that she knew to call for an ambulance while she monitored his condition.

Days later, the injured man returned and sought Dominique out. He explained that he had actually overdosed and that he was lucky that she had helped him; he was fortunate that paramedics were on hand to reverse his overdose after he had lost consciousness in the ambulance. He handed her a photo of himself with some smiling children. Written on the back:

"Thank you for saving my life and giving me another chance to be there for my kids."

While this interaction stands out to Dominique and helps reinforce why she and her Frontline colleagues value their roles here at The Mission, they’re also content with the sometimes thankless nature of their job. Leo sums it up:

“A positive client story for us is as simple as them leaving after being helped to find housing, a job, or something like that… and we just never see or hear from them again.”

English Club Helps Newcomers Adapt & Thrive

A cheerful and determined man of 37, Guillaume arrived from Burundi seeking to build a life in Canada. While staying in a shelter might not have been how he pictured his early experiences here, he’s thankful for all the support he’s received from you and The Ottawa Mission.

Due to an influx of newcomers with no other option but to stay at The Mission, the ‘English Club’ at our MCA Ottawa Steppingstones Learning Centre has been at full capacity.

There, Guillaume and other newcomers join teacher Kathy to work on their English. Despite the language barrier, the classroom is lively, where laughter and smiles are the universal language.

“We’re all from different countries, but we’re like family. I’ve made new friendships here and it’s touched my heart.”

Students are keen to learn, not only to better integrate into Canadian life, but to prepare for immigration-related language tests and create employment opportunities. Guillaume was an electrical technician back in Burundi and has found a job here with Amazon.

He works the night shift, taking a meal to-go from our kitchen before his commute. With his limited spare time, Guillaume searched for suitable housing alongside his Ottawa Mission caseworker Matt, and we’re happy to report that he’ll soon be moving into an apartment of his own!

“When I came here, I didn’t know how it would go…I really like Canada. I feel fortunate that services like The Mission are available to help me.”