Social support agencies prepare for long-term post-flood needs

Although the waters have receded, many Calgarians continue to struggle with the emotional fallout of the June floods.

Calls to Calgary’s Distress Centre went up 38 per cent during the flooding — a number that the organization’s executive director says she expects to increase as many face ongoing challenges dealing with long-term recovery from lost homes and income.

Joan Roy said that initially many callers sought practical advice on how to deal with the flooding. As the immediate crisis passed, however, there was shift in the type of support that many needed.

“A few days later, we started to see the increase on the crisis lines,” Roy said. “People really started to feel the impact of the emotional aspect of what was going on.”

Non-profit agencies such as the Distress Centre often depend on corporate donations to assist with the implementation and delivery of their programs and services. As post-flood recovery efforts continue in Calgary, ENMAX has committed $300,000 to help both the Distress Centre and Aspen Family and Community Network Society support vulnerable Calgarians.

Over the next three years, ENMAX will donate a total of $150,000 to each agency.

Donation helps fund energy specialist

“They really are there to help people when they are at their most vulnerable and when they don’t have another place to turn.”

-Ginna Manes, President and CEO of ENMAX

Aspen Family and Community Network Society provides support to individuals and families struggling with poverty. Part of the ENMAX donation will be used to help the agency hire an energy specialist to help low-income Calgarians manage their electricity consumption.

As well, ENMAX will continue to provide support to the agency through its Winter Breather Program. Now in its sixth year, the program is an initiative designed to assist those struggling with electricity bills.

Shirley Purves, CEO of the society, said that for low-income Calgarians something as basic as paying monthly utility bills can pose a significant — and long-term — hardship.

“For them to lose their power — as families living in poverty — they lose their food and they lose their capacity to actually function.”

Purves says that the creation of the energy specialist position will help the agency to understand its clients’ needs better. As well, she said it will allow for greater collaboration with ENMAX when it comes to assisting vulnerable Calgarians struggling with electricity bills.

More volunteers

Gianna Manes, President and CEO of ENMAX Corporation joined Shirley Purves, CEO of Aspen Family and Community Network Society (left) and Joan Roy, Executive Director of the Distress Centre (right) in announcing the donation.

Photo courtesy of ENMAX CorporationThe Distress Centre depends heavily on trained volunteers to provide frontline support and referrals through its 24-hour crisis line. With the recent influx of post-flood calls, the agency has been actively recruiting new volunteers.

The agency will use the ENMAX donation to provide ongoing support, training and supervision for its volunteers.

“With ENMAX’s support, we will be able to provide help to many more people,” executive director Roy said.

The president and CEO of ENMAX said the work undertaken by both Aspen Family and Community Network Society and the Distress Centre reflects the “community objectives” of ENMAX.

“They really are there to help people when they are at their most vulnerable and when they don’t have another place to turn,” Gianna Manes said.

“With the Distress Centre, in particular, we are helping support their volunteer programs so that they can help people get through the immediate crisis.”

Learning from others

With the flood being an unprecedented event, Roy said that the Distress Centre is looking to how crisis centres in other cities have responded to natural disaster and is preparing to offer long-term support to those who are still struggling in its aftermath.

Roy said that it has been shown that emotional stress can continue for months — even years — after a natural disaster.

“We are relying a lot on the experiences of other crisis centres across North America,” she said. “What they usually see is the (need for) emotional support goes on for a significant period of time.”

ktaylor@cjournal.ca