Ottawa business leaders gathered downtown last night in Devinder Chaudhary’s upscale fine dining restaurant for cocktails, canapés and a conversation about an issue everyone there was in agreement on: resolving chronic homelessness.
Aiāna Collective Restaurant hosted a donor reception for some 60 supporters of Shepherds of Good Hope (SGH) Foundation, a local non-profit organization that remains at the forefront of providing safe and stable housing for individuals in need.
The crowd, which included board members, donors and supporters, were welcomed by SGH Foundation CEO David Gourlay. He was joined by his board vice-chair, Kaveh Rikhtegar, as well as such colleagues as Shepherds of Good Hope CEO Stephen Bartolo. Attendees also included Ben Lidzbarski, Katrina Barclay and Sofia Santiso Borsten from the Shepherds’ Champions Table made up of volunteer community and business leaders who support the non-profit organization where they can. Also spotted was Paul Meek, owner of Kichesippi Beer Co. He happened to be in the ‘hood, having just opened a new location on Sparks Street.
February is Heart Month and the University of Ottawa Health Institute Foundation is back with its annual campaign. Get ready to #LightTheTownRed
Gourlay reminded guests how Shepherds is a 24-hour, year-round operation. “We don’t close our doors for anything,” he said of an organization that runs a soup kitchen, shelter programs, evening drop-in, community support services and supportive housing facilities.
“We provide the service all the time to make sure that those experiencing chronic homelessness receive the dignity and care that they so richly deserve in our city.”
He recognized it’s not uncommon to see folks experiencing homelessness outside Shepherds’ main building at the downtown intersection of King Edward Avenue and Murray Street. He encouraged the public to show support, empathy and compassion toward such individuals. “That’s one of us; that’s a community member,” he said.
Gourlay was joined at the reception by the Shepherds’ program senior manager Adrienne Arsenault. She oversees the shelter programming and soup kitchen programming, as well as case management services.
She also asked guests to keep in mind that the people who turn to Shepherds for help are individual people. “At events like this we often talk about the ultimate mission and the ultimate vision, which is to end chronic homelessness … but in those conversations, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the individual,” said Arsenault. “These individuals, they have families, and they have hopes and they have dreams and they have fears.”
When men and women land at the shelter doors of the Shepherds, they may be experiencing homelessness for the first time or they may be struggling to break the cycle of homelessness due to complex mental health problems, trauma or substance use problems, she said. “At Shepherds of Good Hope, we believe that all of those individuals, and everyone in between, deserve a home.
“They deserve a place where they can belong and a place where they have a sense of community.”
The need for supportive housing currently exceeds the supply, she noted. “People who require this level of support kind of end up stuck in the shelter system. Right now, the inflow to the shelter system is a very well-running faucet and the outflow is a bit of a trickle.
“But, one of the beautiful things that Shepherds of Good Hope does is, we very deliberately create supportive housing programs that have varying levels of support and varying mandates to allow people to move from a continuum of care.”
With the right help, residents can reach a point where they’re living more independently and require less support, she added.
Arsenault touched on how serious the homeless situation is in Canada right now. “Everybody knows that. There’s a lot of suffering and a lot of illness across Canada and right here in our communities.”
Yet, she viewed the guests standing before her as a positive sign of how the public is committed to doing its part to help ease the distress.
“I get to witness the alleviation of suffering on a daily basis in the form of a warm place to sleep, a warm meal and the hope on someone’s face when they realize that they can finally move from a shelter into housing, where they belong and they feel like they have a sense of community,” said Arsenault.
“I often get to visit supportive housing, and I see people that I first met when they were in the shelter. They’re now unrecognizable in the absolutely best way. They’ve gained weight, they’re happier, they’re chattier, they’ve come out of their shell, and it’s a really beautiful evolution to witness.
“None of that would be possible without the commitment and the generosity of the community and rooms full of people like yourselves,” said Arsenault in thanking guests from “from the bottom of her heart” for their support.
Chaudhary, who’s on the board of the Ottawa Board of Trade, was unable to attend due to illness but his son, Raghav Chaudhary, is the executive chef of the restaurant.
Devinder later told OBJ.social that his support of charitable organizations such as Shepherds of Good Hope “aligns with our values of making a positive impact beyond the dining experience.”
Aiāna is also one of the local restaurants that support Shepherds’ annual foodie fundraiser, Taste for Hope. The signature event is slated to return Wednesday, May 15th at a new venue: the Shaw Centre.