Chalmers Community Services Centre finds new downtown Guelph home

The Chalmers Community Services Centre prides itself in offering no-judgement programming to their ‘guests’ in Guelph. “We would only ever ask a guest for a name and an address,” said Peter Gill, Volunteer Executive Director. “We don’t present any other barriers to access.”

CCSC brings its ‘judgement free’ programming and services to a new location in downtown Guelph

Volunteers have been preparing the new centre on Carden Street in Guelph, which opens August 18 with expanded facilities. (Diana Sterenberg)

The Chalmers Community Services Centre prides itself in offering no-judgement services to their Guelph patrons, people they refer to as 'guests'.

"We only ask our guests for a name and an address," said Peter Gill, Volunteer Executive Director. "We don't ask for any proof of income, proof of need or expenses. We don't present any other barriers to access."

We don't ask any questions in regard to whether people 'deserve' something or not.- Peter Gill

Previously renting on Baker Street, the downtown location of CCSC has moved into a shared space at 42 Carden Street, which opens August 18.

Gill hopes this means more growth since the CCSC opened 20 years ago, adding that "I think we're going to be much more visible."

'No judgement' access

The CCSC prides itself on accessible, inclusive offerings.

Other food models for low-income Canadians, like food banks, operate out of a charity model and require proof of need from individuals.
The group, which launched 20 years ago, provides skills workshops, access to healthy food, and other programs for those in the Guelph area who need it. (Diana Sterenberg)

"They try to set up some kind of distinction between people who need it and people who don't need it," he said. "We don't ask any questions in regard to whether people 'deserve' something or not."

Gill said he doesn't think there needs to be a qualifier to whether someone deserves access or help.

"My guess is that 98 per cent of the people that come to us probably wouldn't want to be accessing services such as ours if they didn't really need it."

Healthy inclusion

Food stigma has shown to have an effect on the dietary choices of low-income Canadians, as limited access to food banks provides more processed, non-perishable food, and can create feelings of exclusion from spaces with healthier options.

"I think it is a huge factor in the issue of food insecurity, and the relationship between the people that have and people that don't have," said Gill.

The CCSC has a mandate to provide healthy food, to its guests, and even worked with a dietician to map out a nutritious diet, guiding what the centre offers. 

"The traditional model is that you give out a lot of non-perishable stuff, which doesn't tend to have a lot of nutritional value," said Gill. "We've tried to always stay away from that."

A fresh start with old values

The CCSC has grown, but their thought process hasn't changed much in the last 20 years.

"For us, the philosophy of inclusiveness and welcome has always been foundational to the organization," said Gill.

With a new space and greater access to the Guelph community, they're hoping to expand current projects as well as start new ones.

This includes their recently launched micro-financing program, a type of loan system often used in developing countries, which Gill said could have huge impacts locally. The program aims to offer financial support through 'small business loans' while also fostering financial independence for the individuals taking part.

"People can apply for loans to go to do some further education, or to buy a sewing machine," he said.

The new location will continue to offer 'no judgement' services, trying to remove prejudice from those experience financial difficulty. (Diana Sterenberg)

They are also hoping to expand the hours of their Cafe, which is open Monday and Tuesday from 10-12 a.m, as a welcoming space. for individuals struggling with a low-income or other issues. Its one of the programs they offer that aims to assist in the 'holistic' issue of poverty, rather than just addressing economics. 

"One of the things they encounter a lot is isolation," said Gill. "We are trying to offer more of a social time where they can come, just sit and have a coffee."