'Twas the Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Warmland
Not a creature was stirring, not a station unmanned
Stockings were donated by generous souls
Brand new ones, dry ones, socks without holes!

The people were nestled, all snug in their beds
Safe from the streets, asleep and well fed
With shelter workers keeping a vigilant eye
On a cold winter night, bright stars in the sky

When out in the courtyard there arose such a clatter
Staff poured out the doorway to see what was the matter?
And there, on the bench, in well-worn red clothes
Was a bearded old man, with a tear on his nose

“You know, he said softly, ‘I’ve had some hard times
Addiction and illness left me just a few dimes
I once drove a sleigh, with a home at ‘The Pole’
With COVID, and struggles, I’ve nowhere to go.’

‘Come into the shelter’, said one of the workers
We’ll find you clean clothes, a warm meal, take a shower
We provide counselling, a nurse, shelter too
Everyone struggles, this is nothing new

Old St. Nick slowly rose to his feet
“I’ll come inside, but just for some heat”
And into the shelter, all of them hurried
Shaking off the cold, to the warm room they scurried

And so jolly St. Nick moved into the Shelter
To get back on his feet, safe from the weather
So be generous and loving, it always feels right
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night


(Our Shelter Elves from left to right - Saige, Melissa, Hailey, Eddie and Carey ❤️)

Winter Wear Fair at Warmland, Thursday October 21

CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch Hosts ‘Winter Wear Fair’ at Warmland House

It is estimated that there are well over 300 persons in the Cowichan Valley that are homeless or marginally housed (ie couch surfing, living in vehicles, etc). Some sleep rough on the street or in temporary outdoor camps, some use the Warmland House Shelter or the Women’s Shelter operated by CWAV, and others have found temporary shelter through the Cowichan Housing Association’s temporary hotel or tiny homes projects.

To support these individuals, the CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch has spent the last several weeks collecting gently used coats, boots, shoes, socks and other items to distribute at Warmland House Shelter (2579 Lewis St) on Thursday, October 21st.

With the help of community groups including the New Life Church, the Community Farm Store and JuiceFM, several collections were held leading up to this event. The generosity of the community is being demonstrated this week as the event now includes lunch - free hot dogs and warm drinks provided by the Knights of Columbus – as well as free haircuts being provided by a group of hairdressers from Hair at 60 Queens Studio. A grant from the the United Way Central and Northern Island will supply backpacks and other items. Regularly scheduled foot care is also being provided that day.

Posters and leaflets (sample below) have been distributed by community outreach teams and have been shared with Lookout Society, the Cowichan Basket Society, CWAV Women’s Shelter, Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Action Team Peers, and the Meals on the Ground.

Gates will be open from 10:30am - 1:30pm. COVID precautions are in place. Masks and social distancing will be required, and only a few people will be permitted into the courtyard at one time. Items will be distributed and haircuts provided on a first come, first served basis.


fivewaysEvery night in the Cowichan Valley, the experience of homelessness is a reality for many adults and youth - whether they are coach surfing, sleeping outdoors, or feeling unstable in their current situation. It is estimated that there are well over 300 homeless individuals in the Cowichan Valley.

Both our Warmland House Shelter and Open Door Youth Services Centre are spaces where the CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch staff can connect with and assist homeless individuals. No matter what brings someone through the door, they are always met with caring and welcoming staff, eager to offer support in whatever form is needed.

COVID-19 has presented us with many challenges. While we continue to provide service to some of our most vulnerable community members, we have put many fundraising events on hold and are challenged to meet the needs of the growing population of individuals who find themselves without adequate housing. 

Here are five simple ways that you can offer your support to someone that may be hungry, cold and suffering.

1) 'Cowichan Cares: WinterWear Drive for the Homeless' 
Coat Dirve
It's cold and wet out there and our homeless community is definitely feeling it. Please check your closets for gently used winter coats, ponchos, rainwear, boots, shoes, socks or umbrellas that you are no longer in need of and consider donating to Warmland House Shelter at 2579 Lewis Street. Due to COVID restrictions the front gate at Warmland is locked.  Please press the buzzer to the left of the gate and staff will come out and collect your donations. 

If your organisation or group is interesting in taking on a coat/boot drive for our homeless population, please send us a message and we will help you get started.

2) 2022 Calendar Fundraiser - Birds of the Cowichan Valley

Calendar CoverThe CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch has partnered with Cowichan Valley photographer Ken Thorne to produce a beautiful 2022 calendar. Many people are familiar with Ken's beautiful bird photographs. The calendar is gorgeous and would make a lovely Christmas gift. All proceeds support local mental health programming. The calendars are $25 each, which includes shipping within Canada. They are available to order online now and in person at the following supporting businesses:
Please have cash available for in-person purchases. Many thanks to these businesses and to Ken for graciously donating his beautiful images. Supplies are limited so order early to avoid disappointment.

3) Donate a Meal for Warmland Thanksgiving Dinner

thanksgiving takeoutEach day, the kitchen at Warmland House Shelter produces approximately 120 meals daily (breakfast and dinner). COVID distancing restrictions limit the number of persons able to eat in the warm, dry dining room to 16 people. Another 24 meals are delivered to residents in transitional apartments upstairs and the remainder are served take-out style at the shelter gate.

Last year, 110 Thanksgiving dinners were served. Most of these were distributed at the gate and the homeless ate their meals outside, many sitting on curb. The number of people that are without permanent housing is growing and so is the demand for meals. Here are a few ways you can support our annual Thanksgiving Dinner:

  • Donate a frozen turkey or ham: simply purchase and drop off at the shelter (2579 Lewis St). Use the buzzer as the gate is locked and staff will come out and collect from you. You can also call ahead to make arrangements (250.715.1132). If you would like your family to be acknowledged on our social media networks for your donation, please leave your name with staff.
  • Make an online meal donation on our website. If you would like to support us all year long, we invite you to use the monthly donation option available. 

4) Champions for Mental Health

Is mental health important to you or to your family? Have you or a loved one struggled with your mental health? Are you looking for a meaningful way to support the work of CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch?

If you have answered 'yes' to any of the above, you may want to consider becoming a Champion for Mental Health

5) Pre-Christmas Virtual Silent Auction


COVID-19 has presented us with many challenges. While we have continued to provide services to some of our most vulnerable community members, we have put many fundraising events on hold.  To this end, we are reaching out to local artists and businesses for donations to include in our pre-Christmas ‘Santa’s Helpers Pay it Forward’ virtual silent auction to raise funds for our mental health programs in the Cowichan Valley.

We are grateful for any support you’re able to offer. All business and personal contributions will be publicly acknowledged during the silent auction, and through our social media channels. Tax receipts can be issued for the value of the donated items over $20. A Donation Form to complete and return with your donation is available upon request. We will arrange to collect donations. The virtual silent auction will run from October 25 through November 7th.  

Questions? Please call or email Anne Marie at 250.597.1372 ext 113.

CMHA - Cowichan Valley Branch


Boyd's Big Comeback

At 54, Boyd Vankoughnett is starting over.

Originally from Alberta, life hasn’t been easy for Boyd. He raised his three children alone, holding down a string of jobs that includedBoyd labouring and cooking. In 2019, once his children were grown and independent, he decided to take a food service job in the Okanagan.  As a single parent, he never accumulated much in savings so when the job fell through without any pay, he was worried. On the advice of a friend, he made the trip to Vancouver Island in hopes of finding steady work and a place to live.

COVID-19 and its associated restrictions arrived around the same time as Boyd. Jobs were scarce in the food industry and the limited housing available was unaffordable to him. In March 2021, Boyd found himself without medication for his painful back injury, sleeping in a tent in Lake Cowichan. Desperate for shelter and with limited mobility, he made the trip to Duncan and arrived at the gates of Warmland House in April, weary from cold and pain.

Boyd was given food and shelter the first night he arrived. He credits the staff at Warmland for helping to get him back on his feet and says “the staff here have been wonderful”.  Three months later he’s received the medical attention he needed for his back injury by connecting with Warmland’s physician and he has moved into one of Warmland’s 24 transitional apartments.

With the help of Warmland’s Client Support Worker Jason Bell, Boyd is now receiving a disability allowance and has received the medical support he needs for his back injury. Jason says “Boyd is very easy to work with and is focused on attaining his goals. I’m glad I could be a part of that.”

The transitional housing is affordable, and he is able to rent for up to two years, allowing him ample time to complete his training and get back on his feet. Opportunities to secure transitional housing are based on commitment to a personal growth plan (Moving Forward Plan) developed in tandem with CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch (CMHA-CVB) staff. Boyd is happy to continue taking his meals in the Warmland dining room. “The food is great and I’m very grateful to be here”.

When asked about Boyd’s comeback, Amberly St. Laurent, CMHA-CVB Transitional Care Coordinator says “Boyd is the most resilient and determined person I have ever met. He has faced barriers and obstacles, but he perseveres and doesn’t let it get him down. He is a man with a plan! I know in my bones that Boyd will achieve any and all goals he sets for himself.” With Amberly’s help, Boyd is registered to begin training this month to become a Community Support Worker.

After some difficult years, Boyd is now excited for his future and looking forward to the challenges he feels that he is now equipped to tackle. His words of advice to others? “If you’re serious about changing your life, Warmland is the place to come.”

Thank you Boyd, CMHA-CVB is s so pleased to see the path that you are on and we wish you all the best for your future.

Mental Health Week 2021

Words of Encouragement

Well, it has now been over one year since we have been challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic. I recognize that it has been a challenging and stressful time for our employees, clients, partners and the community in general.

It has also had a huge impact on the programs and services we provide here at CMHA-CVB. Many difficult decisions have had to be made including shutting down and cutting back services. Our recipients of service - shelter guests, children, youth and families have been greatly impacted as a result of our decisions. Each of these decisions have been made supported by the guiding principle of "Ensuring Safety for All". These decisions have also been supported by our local and provincial public health officials.

CMHA-CVB is committed to supporting mental health needs in the community, and we are also equally committed to supporting staff wellness in our organization. We recognize that coping with Covid-19 brings with it increased stress and anxiety, experiences of loss and grief, uncertainty, and the loss of connection due to social distancing constraints. 

Covid-19 has brought "trauma" to our organizations, to the people we work with, and to those we serve. It is important that we all take care of ourselves and each other. Our mental health matters!

Together, we must learn to navigate through the good days and the bad days. So, during Mental Health Week (May 3-9, 2021) I am inviting you to consider the following Self Care Tips:

  1. Know that we are all in this together.
  2. Do not isolate - stay connected to people who support, care, and love you. Let your cell phone, computer and social media be your social distance line to keep you connected.
  3. Learn to be kind to yourself. Create and follow a self care plan. You are worth it. "Self Care is not Selfish".
  4. Learn to be kind to others. Many people are fighting battles we are not aware of. The sound of your voice or your smile may be the medicine they need. Sometimes the act of helping others helps us.
  5. Stop occasionally to count your blessings. Many of us are fortunate to be alive, have good health, a home, a job, and family and friends that love us. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
  6. Access the Support Services/Mental Health Services you need. The side effects of the pandemic include: increased mental health issues, stress and anxiety, increased use of alcohol and drugs, relapses, overdoses and suicide. Depression is fueled by loss and grief. Pay attention to how you and those around you are coping. There is no shame in reaching out. Resources are available to help you find a path forward. Be an advocate for your family, friends and colleagues who may need help and support.
  7. Fight loneliness, isolation, and anxiety by searching for joy and moments of connection. Focus on what makes you feel nourished. Feed yourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  8. Take care of yourself at home and at work. Practice kindness and gratitude. Be affirming, respectful, genuine and kind. Let your team contribute to your well-being. Enjoy the health benefits of fun and laughter. Promote being a part of a healthy and strong team.
  9. Be a warrior - do not let the pandemic take you down. Talk about what's happening for you, listen to others, support one another. Give hope power - hope towards a better future. Have faith in yourself and others - and battle for wellness and change.
  10. Breathe and go outside - earth and sky, woods, flowers and fields, lakes, rivers and oceans, mountains and landscapes, sun, rain and rainbows can be the best medicine. They protect our sense of wonder and our belief in "hope".

You matter! Your health and wellbeing contributes a healthy community. Thank you for supporting our collective work and remember... we are better standing together!!

Lise Haddock, Executive Director

CMHA Cowichan Valley Branch


My Experience with the Youth Community Action Project

Submitted by Isaac

Youth Community Action Project participant

I was a part of the CMHA Cowichan Valley Youth Advisory Committee last year and did a few Mental Wellness activities. In the summer, I Isaac-YCAPlearned about the Youth Community Action Project from Ray Anthony, so I met up with him and we chatted about it. It seemed really interesting, and I loved the idea of helping our community through volunteering so I applied, and in August we started. The Youth CAP is being funded by the Government of Canada through the Canada-British Columbia Workforce Development Agreement and the Kiwanis Club of Duncan. The project is to provide 10 youth participants, including myself, with experiential education and volunteer opportunities to gain leadership and social skills.

The other 9 youth participants in this project are really cool and I'm lucky enough to have known a few already. It made me a bit nervous to think I'd only know a few of the people there, and once we started it I wasn't sure how I felt. Maybe nervous, scared, excited, or all of the above. But once we got to working I started getting really into it.

I especially felt this when I went to volunteer at Warmland Shelter in the kitchen for the first time, which is something I get to do because of this project. The first time I was nervous it was gonna scare me, but when I got there it was very fun. I enjoyed working in the kitchen with Chef Rena, I got to make a variety of things with one of the other project members Ryan, I've wanted to learn how to cook more stuff and improve my knowledge of cooking for a long while and I feel this experience helped with that. The only thing I would change about the experience is the long back-and-forth trips on the bus because it’s like an hour long trip either way! It's a good time to relax and listen to music though especially when you get to take the bus with your friends, and sometimes I get to take it with the people I know from the program which is always super nice.

The experiences and learning I've gained from this program, as well as the friends and acquaintances I've made along the way have been far more rewarding than anything else so far, including the stipends that we receive for our participation in the program. But that stipend money has also been helping me a lot. I've been struggling with homelessness for a little while now and this program has helped me with my mental health when and coping with the sad parts of life. It’s also helped me find happiness and wellness in the past weeks. Talking to supportive adults and the rest of the program participants is fun and enjoyable, and I know it really does improve my mental health and wellness. Whether it be planning stuff to do or actually doing stuff, the Youth CAP team stays entertained but mostly on task. Meeting new people and having fun is what I'm enjoying most about this program. In general, I wanna work with kids more - that's like my second favourite volunteer activity other than doing ecological restoration work… maybe third favourite if doing restoration work with kids was ever an option!

I hope this program receives more funding so that it can run annually and support more teens. So far it's been an enjoyable and rewarding experience in my life and it's something I'd suggest for kids around my age to do in the future.

Statement on Police Responses to a Mental Health Emergency

Statement by Jonny Morris, CEO, CMHA BC Division, June 24, 2020

CMHA BC is deeply saddened and concerned about recent tragic incidents across Canada, where individuals who were reportedly in the midst of a mental health emergency, died during an encounter with police. We send our care and condolences to the loved ones and community members forever changed by these lives lost.

We also recognize that racism, systemic injustice, the ongoing effects of colonization, and inequitable access to health resources are all profound risk factors in both the lead up to and during a crisis interaction.

The other profound risk factor for tragic outcomes such as these is decades of systemic under-funding for mental health and substance use care, to the point where police have become the de facto mental health, substance use, and social care system. When police respond to a mental health or substance use emergency, knowingly or unknowingly, trained or untrained, the stakes are high. And all too often, these high stakes result in a loss of life, with devastating consequences for everyone involved.

CMHA BC and our community partners have testified at inquiries, drafted policy reports, commented publicly, and worked with police to respond to the moral imperative to improve crisis care. We need a fundamental shift so that police are no longer the default response for a “wellness check” or a mental health or substance use emergency.

We know that effective crisis care is possible and here are some examples and recommendations for improving emergency crisis response:

  • Listen to the experiences of people living with mental health and substance use problems about their encounters with police.
  • Invest in community-based mental health sector crisis responses like CAHOOTS.
  • Learn from Sweden’s pioneering successes and deploy mental health ambulances.
  • Thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of the Province’s mandatory crisis intervention and de-escalation training for all serving police officers.
  • Drive better practice in crisis care and joint planning through a provincial agreement among services and agencies in the care and support of people in crisis.
  • Compel police forces to develop and implement rigorous mental health strategies that mandate a proportional response when interacting with a person experiencing a mental health emergency.

A mental health emergency warrants an emergency health response. Transformative investments in our mental health and substance use system and moving away from police as the de facto response to care will all help reduce the likelihood of more devastating and tragic loss of life.


COVID-19 and the Most Vulnerable: The Homeless

Written by Katia Bannister, Sowing Seeds of Change and Member of the CMHA Open Door Youth Advisory Group

While the law and advice dictated by our governments is to stay at home and physically distance, these activities are not possible for everyone. Some of the most vulnerable people in our general population, namely the homeless, have no home to self-isolate in. Not only this, but homeless people are more at risk of contracting infectious diseases or developing chronic diseases, disorders and respiratory illnesses. Vulnerabilities such as these, in conjunction with immune systems that may be compromised due to poor nutrition, inability to maintain hygiene, insufficient sleep, high stress levels from living on the streets, as well as possible loneliness and use of substances, are factors that combine to put homeless people at a high risk of being more severely affected by a COVID-19 infection.

Photo by Jean Delisle on CBC

The true pathogens are discrimination and stigma

While scrolling through FaceBook yesterday, I found a post that gave me pause and made me feel rather sick. One of the current “hot topics” in my Vancouver Island community is the short-term tenting sites with “family clusters” of campers that are going to be set up for homeless people in the community.

This project is being spear-headed by the regional COVID-19 Task Force for Vulnerable Populations, which received $220,000 from the Rapid Relief Fund and $172,000 from B.C. Housing to fund the project. Six to ten sites with up to 12 people allowed to stay in each site for up to 30 days, will be established under the plan, which was approved by B.C. Housing. The main goal of the initiative is to support the provincial mandate to provide “shelter-in-place” options in order to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and keep people safe.

However, a significant number of homeowners in the area surrounding the proposed tenting site in Chemainus are now citing their safety as having been overlooked. This is the general sentiment of the FaceBook post that I stumbled upon. Sometimes I am in awe of the lack of compassion and empathy people can have for each other. And not only the lack of these emotions, often I am dumb-founded by the sheer magnitude of fear and hatred that is ingrained in people’s views about our most vulnerable.

“Get guns. It’s the only way proven over and over again.”  Anonymous FaceBooker

Most of the hateful, stigma-filled and discriminatory comments centre around ideas like homeless populations causing inevitable theft, vandalism and other crime, and these phenomena creating unsafe spaces for other community members. However, this idea is an overgeneralization and only seeks to perpetuate long-standing stereotypes about homeless people.

Cultivating a compassion that is contrary to popular opinion

A fact that seemed widely overlooked in the FaceBook comments of the aforementioned post, was that the homeless people who so many were opposed to having in the small tent sites, are already members of the Chemainus community. The homeless are residents of Chemainus despite not having residences to call their own. In fact, many homeless people are not homeless at all, they find their home in the communities they live in. They are simply houseless, lacking houses not homes.

Those of us who do have homes, who have clean water to drink, nutritious food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in at night, often overlook our own privilege. Many of the people in the comments section seemed unable to realize that their own safety relies on the safety of their fellow community members, even those who are not homeowners. Compassion for others, particularly the most vulnerable is key. We, as humans, are created equal, with no one’s needs basic human rights being any more important that anyone else’s.

Challenge yourself to cease to look through the lens of stigma. Put aside your preconceived prejudices and notions, and view homeless people for who they are. Not drug addicts, not burdens to tax-payers, not vandals and thieves, but as people. People who deserve compassion and support to get through the difficult times caused by the pandemic.

Vulnerabilities due to addictions

While not all homeless people suffer or have suffered from addictions, unfortunately there are many who do. For some, substance use makes living on the streets a more bearable experience, and for others it may have been a struggle with addiction that helped create the circumstance that they are in.

Addiction is a powerful thing. It can alter brain chemistry through the release of dopamine, consequently beginning to change one’s personality, memory, and bodily processes that most of us take for granted. Additionally, addiction to substance use can take devastating tolls on one’s health and immune system function. Substance abuse can result in abnormal heart rates and heart attacks, and injecting drugs may lead to collapsed veins and heart valve infections. Some drugs even prevent proper bone growth, while others cause severe muscle cramping and general weakness. Using drugs over a long period of time will eventually cause serious kidney and liver damage.

The major metabolite in alcohol, acetaldehyde, impairs ciliary function in the lungs, making them more prone to bacterial and viral infection. Acetaldehyde is also considered a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. In addition, alcohol impairs the body’s processes of attacking and breaking down bacteria and viruses, which puts people who abuse alcohol at higher risk for infections.

Nicotine also has extremely detrimental effects on the immune system, effects that are experienced regardless of whether someone smokes traditional cigarettes or e-cigarettes. Nicotine increases cortisol levels, while simultaneously reducing B cell antibody formation and the T cell response to antigens. Vapour from e-cigarettes damages the lungs, thus making them more susceptible to infection.

From substance abuse alone, it is easily visible how homeless people are more susceptible to infectious diseases, chronic diseases, disorders and respiratory illnesses, and having a pre-existing condition makes an individual all the more susceptible to severe consequences from catching COVID-19.

The causes of pre-existing conditions in homeless populations

However, not all homeless people have substance abuse problems, and substance abuse is not the only precursor to larger underlying diseases and conditions that many homeless people suffer from.

Many homeless individuals suffer from malnutrition due to not having enough opportunity to find nutritious food, not knowing where to find the social services that will help them get food to eat, or feelings of embarrassment or shame that prevent them from seeking help.

Malnutrition is one of the contributors to the development of respiratory illnesses. Along with crowding while living in groups, and environmental stresses, poor nutrition is observed to predispose homeless people, particularly those living in shelters, to developing infections in their lungs and upper respiratory tract. Respiratory diseases like Tuberculosis are common in many homeless populations; Catching the disease is associated with frequent exposure (due to overcrowding in shelters), alcoholism, poor diet and other previously developed illnesses that can cause decreased immune functioning in the host. 

Chronic diseases like diabetes can not only be developed as a result of homelessness, but they make life as a homeless person infinitely harder. To control and treat diabetes, an individual must be taking medicines at certain times or with meals. This allows them to regulate their blood sugars. However, many homeless people do not know when their next meal will be, and even if they do, they may be eating food that will only make them sicker. In serious cases of diabetes, an individual may need to take insulin shots. Even if a homeless person is able to purchase or access the medications they need, they are still likely to inject themselves in unhygienic conditions, possibly making them even sicker.

COVID-19 and the homeless

Members of the CMHA Cowichan Valley Youth Advisory Committee passing out food at Our Place Society – Photo by Ray Anthony

Homeless people are already more at risk of contracting infectious diseases or developing chronic diseases, disorders and respiratory illnesses; Having a pre-existing condition and a consequently weaker immune system makes homeless people even more likely to contract COVID-19. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals of any age who already have serious underlying medical conditions may be at a heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Conditions cited by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention as increasing the likelihood for severe COVID-19 infection include: Serious heart conditions, HIV or AIDS, diabetes, asthma, and liver disease. Many of these conditions are common in homeless populations, and coupled with substance abuse, they make homeless people especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

Especially in these times of hardship, it is essential that we come together as a community and find resiliency within each other. We must take measures to protect our most vulnerable, and allow the houseless to feel at home.