Gathering Place nearing crisis as demand grows for services

Joanne Thompson hates to think of what will happen at the Gathering Place if the government doesn't step in and provide more funding.

Registered users of street-level outreach grew by 400 this summer

The Gathering Place, on Military Road, provides services to 1,400 people. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Joanne Thompson hates to think of the future at the Gathering Place if the government doesn't step in and provide more funding. 

Over the last three months, the street-level outreach organization has helped hundreds more people than usual.

In June, 1,000 people — mostly those struggling with addictions, mental health issues or both — were registered at the Gathering Place. As of September, there were 1,400 people using their services. 

"One of my biggest fears is that the core staff that we have at the moment will become ill and will need to step back to regain health," Thompson, the Gathering Place's executive director, told CBC News. " And that certainly will create a crisis."

Joanne Thompson, executive director of the Gathering Place, says the organization is in need of government funding. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Thompson fears they're reaching a breaking point that'll be detrimental to staff and the people they serve. 

"People came [to us] with needs beyond what we at times felt we could provide," she said.

A recent survey of guests to the centre showed that many live outside of other existing services, such as other outreach groups — revealing a largely invisible population that's shrouded in drug abuse and mental illness. 

"It's people who are so precariously housed that they may change bedsitters two and three times a month. And it's the staff here trying to find them somewhere to move."

Gathering Place guests can take part in enterprise programs, like the community garden, that allow them to make money and feel a sense of pride. (Submitted by Mike O'Dea)

"Whatever the reason, they're coming to us in incredibly large numbers and they need help. And we need staff to be able to meet those needs."

Workload 'unsustainable'

Thompson said the province provides $120,000 annually through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. 

She estimates it costs well over $1 million to run the facility, which relies heavily on volunteers and donations.

In order to keep up with demand, Thompson said the federal or provincial government needs to step up and provide further help. 

The Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development said the government provides in-kind support to the Gathering Place, such as a doctor three days a week, a half-time nurse practitioner, an outreach social worker, a community health nurse two days a week, a chronic disease nurse one day a week, and an employee to assist income support clients one day a week. 

A little more than $500,000 was given to the centre for renovations and expansion over 2012 and 2015. 

The department said a review of housing programs has been conducted and it will "inform the development of our Provincial Housing Plan in 2017-18."

"An important part of the Provincial Housing Plan will be how to best target resources to help prevent and end homelessness, as well as how to best meet the needs of those in need, and this will include consideration for such organizations as The Gathering Place," a spokesperson for the department wrote in an email Tuesday. 

However, Thompson said the Gathering Place has seven staff members whose workload is no longer sustainable.

In particular, Thompson said there is a need for a case management person to help people navigate different government and community services.

"We have people doing professional jobs here on a full-time basis without receiving any money. And while that is commendable and we are so grateful, that doesn't lend itself to succession planning."

About the Author

Ariana Kelland


Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.