First-time clients flooding Calgary agencies for help

Social agencies in Calgary are seeing many clients who have never needed their services before, reports the United Way.
Single father and hardwood floor installer Dean Roach is worried a lack of work will force him to turn to the food bank. ((CBC))

Social agencies in Calgary are seeing many clients who have never needed their services before, reports the United Way.

The charity volunteer group released a community assessment on Friday of how the economic crisis has hurt Calgarians over the past few months.

One of them is Dean Roach, a single father and hardwood floor installer who has seen work dry up this year.

"I'm down to a couple of meals with my little ones," he told CBC News on Friday. "I'm a pretty proud father and to not be able to provide for my kids is devastating."

"They used to be able to go into the cupboard and you know, grab a granola bar, make a sandwich, you know, whatever they want and now it's like 'Daddy, can we have… Daddy, can we have?'"

Dean Roach and his daughters, Jazmin, 10, and Harley, 7, play a game at home. ((CBC))

With rent outstanding, Roach, who has two young daughters, swallowed his pride and lined up at the welfare office in April, only to discover he wasn't alone.

"By the time they opened those doors at 8:30 there was ... at least 300 people standing in that lineup."

Roach said he hasn't had to use any local services like the food bank — yet.

"I would prefer not to turn to those places but I mean the way things are going, I might end up having to," he said.

Dramatic jump in calls to crisis lines

The United Way's study suggests thousands of Calgarians like Roach need help, stretching the resources of social agencies.

"There's a lot of talk about recovery in the economy right now.  I think that is completely misguided," said Ruth Ramsden-Wood, president of the United Way of Calgary and Area.

"We still have a number of people who are facing challenges. Just because the TSX passed 10,000 doesn't mean the line at the food bank isn't still growing."

To respond to the need, the United Way released a package called Hope in Hard Times for both agencies and their clients that includes practical information such as:

  • How to start the application process for financial assistance.
  • How to draft letters to creditors.
  • How to access emergency food assistance.

According to the United Way, the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter received the highest number of domestic violence calls in February than any month in its history. Calls jumped by 300 per cent in that month compared to February 2008.

As well, stress-related calls to the Calgary Counselling Centre increased by 40 per cent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2008.

With files from Tara Fedun