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While the province commits to pumping millions of dollars into the Salvation Army in Charlottetown, many are levelling harsh criticism at how the Christian organization is running operations at a men’s shelter and a facility intended to provide support services to Islanders in greatest need.
Clients and former staff are voicing both concern and outrage at how some staff treat people seeking shelter and support at Bedford MacDonald House and the Outreach Centre, which are both located in the capital city.
All those interviewed by The Guardian say operations have taken a decided downturn since the Salvation Army sent Mike Redmond packing. He had served as residential manager from November 2019 to Sept. 1, 2020.
A lack of compassion was the most consistent complaint, but charges of racism and inadequate assistance were common concerns as well.
Madison MacKay has handed in her resignation after working part-time at Bedford MacDonald House for the past year. She has seen many changes since the departures of Redmond and Tami MacIntyre, who served as the transitional housing and outreach worker at the shelter.
“From what I have seen, I believe that the SABMH (Salvation Army Bedford MacDonald House) has been recently implementing changes to their policies and employing staff who are not exhibiting values that reflect person-centred and trauma-informed care to homeless and at-risk clients," she wrote in a letter she shared with The Guardian.
MacKay accuses some staff of displaying discriminatory attitudes towards people with disabilities, mental health struggles, addictions and criminal backgrounds, as well as Black, Indigenous and people of colour.
She says one staff member at Bedford MacDonald House turned away a potential client because the person was Indigenous and had a criminal record.
MacKay managed to get the client in for two nights at the shelter, noting the man was very respectful and did not cause any issues during his stay.
“Staff can pick and choose who stays and who goes, and I have talked to many clients who feel as if they are walking on eggshells trying to prevent getting kicked to the streets,’’ she says.
“The Salvation Army is committed to providing compassionate care and life-changing support to all those in need,’’ the organization said in a statement to The Guardian. It would not address any of the allegations against staff, noting it respects the privacy of its employees and cannot disclose any information about them.
“The Salvation Army offers support to all those in need of assistance based solely on their need and our capacity to help. We uphold the dignity of all people and firmly oppose the mistreatment of any person."
The province certainly seems to approve of the job the Salvation Army is doing. Taxpayers will be providing $3.7 million in funding to the organization over the next three years to help support Bedford MacDonald House, the Outreach Centre and Smith Lodge, as well as a 20-bed transitional housing complex that will open later his year.
“The province believes that the Salvation Army is meeting the scope of the agreement set out in 19/20,’’ the province said in a statement to The Guardian.
The Salvation Army adds that to ensure it meets community needs, it has recently hired a new case manager to replace Redmond at the Outreach Centre and guests at Bedford MacDonald House, and it is in the process of hiring a second manager to provide additional support.
“We will always ensure there is capacity for all Islanders to seek the help they need,’’ says the statement from the Salvation Army.
The province adds it has not been made aware of any decline in operations at Bedford MacDonald House or the Outreach Centre.
However, several people who spoke with The Guardian are quick to highlight what they consider a stark deterioration in the operations.
John Hallett, 42, of Charlottetown worked at the shelter for four months and at the Outreach Centre for two months. He says Redmond and MacIntyre both helped him move his life forward in a positive manner.
That nurturing, he notes, is in stark contrast to what has existed since the pair left.
Hallett, who is Mi’kmaq, says staff members at Bedford MacDonald House would often speak of Indigenous people in a derogatory way. Staff, he adds, would talk down to clients in general, treating them like children.
“They just need the compassion back," he says.
Matt Dunn, 30, says the Salvation Army tried to foist Christianity on him. When he went into a meeting in early October with Maj. Wayne Loveless after getting back into Bedford MacDonald House, the meeting turned into “a religious-based thing”.
Cory Morrissey, 40, who has been homeless for four years, says he was booted out of the shelter for complaining about Redmond getting fired.
“I won’t go back,’’ he says.
Redmond will not discuss his departure in any detail, noting he signed a non-disclosure agreement.
That, however, does not stop him from lashing out at the Salvation Army.
“It’s an outdated organization that is trying to run sheltering and trauma-informed care,’’ he says.
“That is not in their wheelhouse … they are not a progressive enough organization to make that step.’’
Lucas Woods, 29, worked at the Outreach Centre for eight months as a cleaner. He quit in October because he was being treated differently because he is Indigenous, he says.
Woods says he was treated with respect by Redmond while he was staying at Bedford MacDonald House and that Redmond got Woods his job at the Outreach Centre.
“He made me the person I am today. He was so positive,’’ Woods says about Redmond.
“Everybody was upset that he was gone. They don’t like the way it is now. It’s not the same.’’