Donna Bates has been an outreach worker for the Native Men’s Residence for six years. Na-Me-Res is an organization which provides housing and outreach support with a focus on supporting Indigenous clients. Donna spoke with us about her experiences working as an outreach worker and what challenges she faces.
What is a day like for you?
I do like encountering our people out there you know they’re my people… for some reason they find me approachable.
We usually start by going to the drop-ins, we have appointments just to encounter with the clients to see how they’re doing. We give out a lot of water especially in the summer. We just stop and talk to them , we know a lot of them well.
What have you learned in your work as an outreach worker?
I know what it’s like to be homeless because when I left my marriage I was on the streets, I’m aware of what it’s like. I guess you call it couch surfing… I had a lot of family but a lot of people here they don’t have a lot of family- though all the street people here..it is like a family.
I’ve learned compassion..and you know love. They’re humans too they have every right to live in Toronto or be in Toronto. I know it’s difficult to house them…landlords don’t appreciate them ….they don’t like anyone on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) or anyone with addictions but we do encounter some who will accept their way of life.
What would you say to people who are only aware of the stereotypes attached to homelessness?
What they don’t understand is their story..what happened to them. There’s a lot of abuse and trauma…addictions. They just don’t understand that way of life. I remember one time I was just down the road there and one of our clients was panhandling and this guy yelled out “get a job you lazy Indian!” And that really upset him you know this guy is really judging him..he doesn’t know his story and how he got there. You know Im sure he didn’t plan that growing up.
What do you find rewarding in your work?
You know each day I look forward to seeing them but it’s hard when they’re having a bad day…when someone’s passed away.
The rewarding thing for me is when the clients are laughing and smiling. As a Native person myself we have a certain sense of humour- but you know when it’s serious it’s serious. But it’s just good to make them laugh.