Distress Centre takes final call in Windsor

After 52 years the Distress Centre of The Downtown Mission is no longer in operation.

'Unfortunately now I believe that we've just created a gap'

Ron Dunn says due to another year of deficits the Distress Centre of The Downtown Mission had to close. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

After 52 years the Distress Centre of The Downtown Mission is no longer in operation.

The service was used for those experiencing anything from stress to suicidal ideation. The last ringing phone was picked up on Dec. 31, 2020. It wasn't a decision Ron Dunn, the executive director of The Downtown Mission took lightly.

"Everything we do is filling a gap that doesn't exist in our community, so making the decision was tough," he said.

Two years of deficits meant there had to be cuts. Earlier this year the crisis line had to cut the texting and online chat options. As the pandemic hit the area, the mission had to reassess its programs and services.

"We felt this year that continuing on without doing it fully was not in the benefit of the community," Dunn said. "We decided either to kind of get in or get out."

There have been a high number of phones calls and the need has not stopped for the service. He said the same group of people use the crisis line, which made it tough to close, because they have become, in a way, dependent on it. 

One person who used the service sent an email to him, the mayor and city council asking to reconsider the closure, because she wasn't in a crisis, so she couldn't call a crisis line.

"She feels that without the contact she was getting from the Distress Centre at The Downtown Mission, that it could affect her mental health ... up to a point where she could go into crisis."

People who used the service were notified about the closure and what other services would be there for support.

Distress and Crisis Ontario is still taking texts, calls, and online chats for those in need. (Sameer Chhabra/CBC)

Lifeline for many

The phone line has had many calls, including one from a pre-teen girl in the county. Dunn said it took a few weeks for the volunteer to get her to open up about who she was and where she lived.

"It turns out, that she was home alone and and hungry," he said, adding it wasn't with malice that she was left home alone, but due to having a single mom who had no choice.

Dunn said both the daughter and mother were able to get some help.

Another volunteer helped a man that was actively involved in suicide. He was able to save his life.

"This was a guy who who was ending his life and at the last second reached out and and it was actually one of our staff members who was able to get the information and send emergency services to him," said Dunn.

Even though there are dramatic cases, there are many who just need an ear, he said.

"The gentleman who lost his job or who was fearful of losing his job. 'How do I tell my wife?' We like to think that the distress centre was helping people with this every day. It's not quite a crisis, but it could be," said Dunn.

Call history

Since 1968 there's been a place for those in the community to reach out. Dunn said that there's a lot of history and a lot of great work has been done. 

The program started with high school teachers and community members and eventually morphed into the Distress Centre. Dunn said they acquired it in 2015 when funding was pulled from the United Way, with the goal to keep it going.

"Unfortunately, again, it's sadly about money, and I hate that it's about money, but we have to be selective in the programs that we offer," he said.

The team at The Downtown Mission is smaller than it was a year ago. At one time having 70 professionally trained volunteers, but that's declined.

"We pride ourselves, since 1972, in just reinventing and recreating ourselves and filling gaps and voids in the system,," said Dunn. "Unfortunately, now I believe that we've just created a gap. We've just created a void for many people and there's some great lines out there, but their mandate is different than the Distress Centre's was."

Who you can call if you need help:

Canadian Mental Health Association's 24-Hour Crisis Line: 519-973-4435

Family Services Windsor-Essex Support Line: 1-877-451-1055

Distress and Crisis Ontario ONTX Responders: 258258
Chat: from 2 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Call: 1-844-360-8055


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