Letter attacking CMHA employees mean-spirited, uninformed

We work in controversial and often-misunderstood fields

Letter attacking CMHA employees mean-spirited, uninformed

I am responding to a letter from Joe Sawchuk. In his letter, Mr. Sawchuk uses payroll numbers from easily accessed audited financial statements to come to his conclusion that Canadian Mental Health Association-Cowichan Valley Branch (CMHA-CVB) employees earn “outrageous wages and benefits”. He also refers to our organization as “a taxpayer funded operation without facing facts and reality of how to manage the operation”.

Before addressing his allegation of outrageousness, I need to correct some other false declarations in this letter.

CMHA-CVB has been providing mental health programming in the Valley since 1992. It is a registered charitable and non-profit organization, and operates nearly 30 programs employing close to 100 local people. All funds raised (through memberships, fundraising, service contracts, grants, etc.) stay in this community.

It is not a government agency, private business, or public body.

Following a rigorous process, in 2017, Imagine Canada recognized, and continues to recognize, CMHA-CVB as an accredited charity.

We operate from several locations, including BikeWorks youth program on Trunk Road, Open Door Youth Service on Festubert Street, the Overdose Prevention Site on Trunk Road, Warmland House Homeless Shelter, Transitional Apartments, Housing Outreach team, and Sobering & Assessment Centre on Lewis Street, and our Admin/Finance offices and BounceBack phone coaching program on York Road.

Under other world circumstances, all of our sites welcome inquiries and facility tours.

We have no needle exchange, nor will we be operating one this fall at York Road. Island Health has recently leased space in the same building on York Road as our offices, and will be setting up a Wellness & Recovery Centre there. More questions about this would have to be directed to VIHA.

CMHA-CVB employees mostly earn an average wage of $20-$25/hour. Many work tirelessly to keep vulnerable people in our community connected, supported, sheltered, fed, and alive. Others work equally as hard in the background to keep our organization stable, accountable, efficient, and relevant.

We work with families to help build their capacity and relationships, and with children and youth dealing with grief and loss, self-image issues, sexual assault, homelessness, and numerous other life challenges. We support adults who struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues, addictions, lack of community connections, poverty, no housing, and hunger. We meet people where they are, and try to walk with them on their journey, not judging or criticizing.

Yes, Mr. Sawchuk, most of our revenue goes to our employees. It does not support extensive overhead or administration. This is because it is our people who are delivering our services in our community.

What your letter did not say was that the 29 per cent increase in wages between 2017 and 2018 represented a significant increase in our programs due to new service agreements, with a subsequent increase to staff numbers to carry out these programs.

Existing staff did not receive pay raises, and, in the last five years, most employees have not received more than a one per cent bump in this time frame.

At this extremely difficult and unusual time in our community and in the world, it is very disheartening to read mean-spirited, uninformed comments directed to our hard-working and dedicated employees.

The work they do, and the dedication and commitment with which they do it, is no less than inspirational and uplifting, and, at the best of times, often risky. This has multiplied many times over in recent weeks.

We work in controversial and often-misunderstood fields, and, sadly, our staff and programs have often been the target of unfair and unreasonable attacks. However, we are proud of the significant contributions made daily to the lives of local people, and we will continue with this and to invite and welcome all truly interested queries.

Anne Brunet

CAO, CMHA-CVB

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