Jackie Powell and her pug Rosie relax at home. For the last four years, Powell and others have been pushing to bring a new model of care to Victoria to help those suffering with mental illness. Kendra Wong/Victoria News

Clubhouse International mental illness program closer to fruition in Victoria

Son’s experience spurs local mom into action

When Jackie Powell saw homeless people sleeping on the streets of downtown Victoria, she assumed everything was being done to help them.

She knew there were people and services to help the homeless, as well as those suffering from mental illness, but the image of a person trying to keep warm on a cold night or begging for spare change still left her with a feeling she just couldn’t shake.

“It’s really sad. It’s just such a hopeless and helpless feeling,” Powell said.

That helpless feeling became more intense when her son, now 26, began suffering from anxiety in high school and needed help. Powell began searching for mental health services to help her son, but quickly realized there was a lack of services that support long-term recovery.

A neighbour told her about the Clubhouse International Program, a service model that in the years since, Powell and other locals have raised thousands of dollars for in an effort to bring to Victoria.

As part of the Clubhouse program, members recovering from mental illness can rebuild their lives through a supportive environment that focuses on each person’s strengths and talents, rather than the illness. Each member chooses the service provider they want to work with, whether to advance their education, gain employment or connect with families or make friends, with the focus being on long-term recovery. If a person relapses, they can walk into the doors of the Clubhouse and pick up where they left off.

“It’s based around the individual needs of each member that attends. It’s not like a person who needs the service has to fit into the program, the program fits into wherever that person is in their life with their recovery,” said Dave MacDonald. He’s the executive director of Pathways House in Richmond, which has successfully operated using the model since 1987.

“There’s less hospitalization rates, more people are going back to school and work and are becoming taxpayers. There are less incarcerations.”

Currently there are 18 Clubhouse programs operating in Canada, including in Port Alberni, Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton, each of which differ slightly based on population needs.

It’s a model Powell said would have benefited her son immensely. While he is more outgoing and has begun exercising again, Powell is aware that could change in the blink of an eye. That’s why she believes ongoing community mental health support services that pick up where people left off are so vital.

Powell and the Connections Place Society’s efforts are gaining traction.

At a fundraising gala last month the society raised $600,000, enough to operate Clubhouse for a year. And they’re not stopping there. The society hopes to raise $1.5 million, enough to run the program for the next three years.

The society is also on the hunt for a roughly 6,000-square-foot facility with a kitchen and washrooms, enough to help 60 to 65 members in the city suffering from mental illness. Powell hopes the space will be easily accessible, on a main bus route, near supported employment opportunities, and could potentially include housing.

While she acknowledged the model is not the complete solution, Powell believes it will complement the city’s existing services. “It’s unique. There’s nothing like this now where people can go to one door and have the one-stop shopping where everything is under one roof. You’ve got education, support, employment support and what’s really needed is the social component,” she said.

“This is a place where people will go from all walks of life will go. All walks of life struggle with mental illness, it’s not just the people you see downtown or living in tents. We’re talking about lawyers, doctors, financial advisors, professors.”

For more information visit connectionsplace.org.

kendra.wong@vicnews.com