The tragic death of a homeless man in Berwick, N.S., has spread awareness about the problem of mental illness in the Annapolis Valley.
Harley Lawrence died in a suspicious fire at a bus shelter on Oct. 23. The investigation into his death is ongoing. No one has been charged.
Lawrence’s family said he suffered from mental illness but refused help.
Volunteers at the Evangeline Club in Berwick — a drop-in centre for people coping with mental illness — said they tried to reach out to Lawrence on several occasions.
Though Lawrence didn’t want help, for people like Marlene Cousins, the centre has been life-changing.
"My therapist had recommended for me to come to the club, just to get out of the house because I was isolating myself and keeping my curtains closed just so I didn't see out and people wouldn't see in. I was afraid to go anywhere by myself," she said.
Since Lawrence's death, coordinator Candy O'Brien said awareness about mental health services in the valley has picked up.
"With the media, press and everything that the tragedy in Berwick has gotten, people have become more aware of the Evangeline Club and what we are doing here," she said.
O’Brien said the club sees about 15 to 20 people every day.
Although the club couldn't save Lawrence, its members are doing everything in their power to make sure no one else falls through the cracks.
“I think that fear is probably still there at the back of their minds but we can’t live our lives according to how we fear — that’s one thing we really try and establish here is that we want to live happy, fulfilling lives and no matter what kind of tragedies come our way, we deal with them and move on,” said O’Brien.
The town also plans to remember Lawrence. A garden bench with a plaque will serve as permanent memorial to Harley Lawrence.