When homeless people started blocking the entrances of West Broadway Community Ministry a few months ago, people in the ministry didn’t know what to do. Some said call the cops. Some said invite them in.
Instead, one minister went and talked with them.
Leave us here, they said. They felt most comfortable sleeping against the building.
Michael Kurek, a clinical therapist involved with the ministry, shared this anecdote on Monday night at Winnipeg’s Vital Signs conversation on mental health, addictions, and healing, held at the University of Winnipeg’s Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex, earlier this week.
“It’s relationship,” he said at the start of his answer to the question “What are the best ways to prevent addictions and promote healing and well-being?”
He clarified the type of relationship that could be the solution: “I respect you for who you are.”
Kurek’s conversation partner during the night’s round table discussion, Gerry Labossiere, agreed.
“It starts with the person,” he said.
Although the two approached the question from opposite political spectrums, they showed agreement with what each other said during the half hour discussion. Society’s systems have forgotten the human element, they said, and instead work to benefit themselves, rather than individuals.
“I don’t think that focus on the heart is truly part of the way we operate,” said Labossiere, a retired chartered accountant who’s now a board member of The Winnipeg Foundation.
The men’s answers built on panelist Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud’s opening remarks on the subject.
Love and kindness, she said, must replace the competitive environment where people feel they can’t talk to each other.
“It [shouldn’t be] the top down model, it’s shoulder to shoulder,” said Sean Miller, another panelist at the discussion. Miller is the partnership for recovery coordinator at Canadian Mental Health Association for Manitoba and Winnipeg.
But before the discussion even started, Blaikie Whitecloud drew attention to “flawed” phrasing. She said people can’t assume mental illnesses are “preventable.” For certain people, she said, there is no prevention. Mental illness for some is a neurochemical reality.
But some people’s mental illnesses spring from issues in their environment, which is why society needs to change, she emphasized.
“We need to address a culture that doesn’t show [people] they are valuable,” she said.
What this looks like, Labossiere said, is ensuring leaders in all sectors put people first. It’s also, Kurek said, building relationships with those around us.
Winnipeg’s Vital Signs® initiative, a project of The Winnipeg Foundation, is a check-up on the vitality of our community. As part of Vital Signs®, the first in a series of Vital Conversations was held on Mon. Jan. 23, focused on Mental Health, Addictions and Healing.
For more stories on this event, go to “Digging deep on mental health and well-being“. You can also view a full recording or a recap of highlights from the discussion by visiting The Winnipeg Foundation’s Facebook page.