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At resource centre, a friendly helping hand

Nov 03 2012
Wendy Stone and her dog Piper help Alex Pitblado with a bus pass at the Resources, Education, Employment and Support program office on Friday. 

Wendy Stone and her dog Piper help Alex Pitblado with a bus pass at the Resources, Education, Employment and Support program office on Friday.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Let's say you're having trouble functioning, never mind filling out the 23-page form for B.C. disability benefits.

Or your son is turning to alcohol, faltering in college and you don't know where to turn.

Maybe you're flat broke and want a job working with your hands, with payment at the end of the shift.

Every year, issues like these confront about 1,500 Victoria residents already dealing with poverty, mental health or addiction issues and social isolation.

They need a friendly face, a free phone and computer in a place where they can get help navigating the system.

They can find it across from Victoria City Hall at the Resources, Education, Employment and Support program office, operating as part of Victoria Cool Aid Society for the last 10 years.

REES has just relocated close to bus routes and the energy of the city's hub.

"I think people are just more comfortable - it's busier, it's noisier and people blend in better," said co-ordinator Lori Ferguson.

The program was forced to move after the ceiling collapsed at its Johnson Street location in June 2011, first to temporary Broughton Street quarters before finding a home at 1509 Douglas St. last month.

One of five men in the resource centre on Friday afternoon was 46-year-old Michael Donaldson, who hopes to find short-term employment - a key mandate of REES through its Community Casual Labour Pool.

"I've just been cleared by my doctor to return to work after battling bladder cancer," Donaldson said. He plans to move to Ontario at the end of the month to be near his son - "I just need the extra pocket money to help with my travelling. I'm capable of doing lots of things, from gardening to small home repairs to gutter cleaning."

The pool charges no fees to workers and drop-ins can show up between 9 a.m. and 3: 30 p.m. weekdays.

Co-ordinator Wendy Stone received five employer requests that day and said wages are discussed, with a fair wage of $15 per hour preferable, though minimum wage is workable at times.

But the slowdown in the economy has caused a big dip in employer requests - slipping from 800 drop-in placements three years ago to 300 last year.

People do not have to have mental-health issues to take part in the labour pool, Ferguson said.

"More and more, we're seeing people who've worked for 20 years and never been unemployed and now their EI is running out and they're desperate."

Besides work and money, the labour pool builds confidence and workplace connections that can lead to more employment, Ferguson said.

The centre also supplies computer printouts of resumés and other kinds of paperwork, and helps to ensure that clients who depend on disability assistance or pensions get what they're entitled to.

Advocacy work is "a huge piece" of what REES does, Ferguson said.

"If we don't provide the service, we will help them find out who does."


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