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New Comox Valley non-profit helps people on street

A Comox Valley woman has started a non-profit to assist marginalized members of the community who tend to fall through the cracks.

Ellen Strong Klassen — a retired teacher and registered clinical counsellor — started forming the idea about five years ago when a close family member developed schizophrenia.

“There was a huge service gap for this young man and I as we went through this journey,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘What about the people who would never be able to understand what you’re saying right now?’ Finding the resources was very complicated. The advocacy was huge, and it was exhausting.”

Before her relative’s life stabilized, Strong Klassen had pledged to do what she could to lessen the agony of other people experiencing similar ordeals.

So she formed the Comox Valley Advocates Association, which was incorporated in August. Its mission is to connect volunteers with marginalized people in need of a favour.

Her team is growing. Strong Klassen has received applications from a variety of individuals, including a doctor, a psychiatric nurse, two counsellors, and a few people without experience but who wish to help.

“I knew that the interest would be there,” she said. “It’s mainly people on the street that we’re targeting. People who have mental illness, including addictions. These people are exactly where my family member would have been if I hadn’t been there to advocate. As I was on this journey with this family member, I noticed these people falling through the cracks. They could not answer the questions, they could not show up on time for appointments, so they were not able to receive the help that is currently there.”

Strong Klassen has queried homeless individuals as to their needs. In one case, she contacted a parent, who has lost jobs due to the lack of people to help deal with her daughter’s needs, including court dates and doctor appointments.

“So now we have two casualties,” Strong Klassen said. “It’s an expensive service gap. It’s going to be expensive to the system in the long-run.”

Strong Klassen has created a database of volunteer jobs, such as filling out forms, and accompanying individuals to doctor appointments or government offices.

She is also trying to connect with local groups such as the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society. She hopes to receive referrals from Island Health, and from the Salvation Army.

The Cumberland Rotary Club has donated $2,000, which helps the CVAA pay for insurance and advertising.

Interested volunteers can email cvadvocatesassociation@gmail.com.

Find the CVAA at www.facebook.com/cvadvocatesassociation


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