An organization that counsels immigrants and refugees who have experienced trauma and torture in their home countries continues to look for a stable source of funding – a search that has led them to charge some of its clients.
Adrinne Carter, co-founder of Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees (CCIR), said her organization is still living hand-to-mouth after experiencing what CCIR described as a “funding crisis” towards the end of last year.
“Our primary funding crisis was around our ability to pay the regular monthly rent,” she said. The registered, not-for-profit agency works out of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, where it pays about $1,000 in rent.
“In the last several months, we began to charge some money to a few immigrant clients who are able to pay,” she said.
“It is up to them how much they can pay and no one is turned away for not having any money. These funds make it easier to meet our rent commitment, but we are still going from month to month, always concerned whether there will be enough at the end of the month to pay our rent.”
CCIR’s co-founder Linda McLagan said they have applied to Ottawa for charitable status, but not received it yet, adding that the federal government will not consider it until June or July. “Then it may take a few more months until the application is accepted,” said McLagan.
Once accepted, it will be easier for the organization to apply for various grants. “In the meanwhile, we are trying different means to fundraise, apply for grants or seek donations,” said Carter.
Getting some more donations would be “extremely helpful,” so that CCIR could continue its work without having to constantly worry about money, said Carter. “There are many other ways we would like to expand our services, for example being able to hire a few part-time clinicians, a clinical director and hire an administrator and a fundraiser,” she said.
CCIR also finds itself in the middle of what McLagan calls is a “friendraising” campaign to help build a board necessary to receive charitable donations. It would include an immigration lawyer, accountants and other professionals with expertise related to the organization.
“We need the whole superstructure to create a sustainable organization,” she said.
Carter and McLagan, longtime friends and colleagues, started CCIR in the spring of 2015.
“The goal of CCIR is to help our clients to resolve their trauma so that they can become integrated members of their new communities,” said Carter. It currently has more than 100 clients who receive counselling from Carter, McLagan and over 20 registered clinicians who are providing their services pro bono.
CCIR also provides training on a wide range of refugee mental health issues to various members of the community, as well as support for settlement workers who may suffer burn-out through vicarious trauma, to sponsorship groups and to clinicians who are working in isolation.
As of this writing, some 1,300 individuals working across a range of industries have received training, said Carter.
CCIR confronts its current financial realities in the midst of the worst human refugees crisis since the Second World War, a development that also strengthened opposition to immigrants.
“Over the course of our short history, the influence of the world’s refugee crisis and increased anti-immigrant sentiment has underscored our need for a longer-term vision,” said Carter.
The world finds itself in the middle of a “global migration crisis” that will not exhaust itself in the highly publicized wave of Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war, said Carter.
This reality, of course, means that the number of immigrants and refugees arriving in Canada suffering from the effects of war and torture will continue to rise as will the local need for treatment, said Carter, who estimates that some 3,000 people living in the Victoria area had suffered torture even prior to the first wave of Syrian refugees.
Due to many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), people can become completely dysfunctional and unable to carry out daily activities, she said.
“This can happen to children who cannot function in schools, or adults who are too overwhelmed to care for their families or to maintain a job,” she said. “Depression, anxiety, numbness, inability to focus, inability to sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, frequent rages are the most common symptoms experienced in addition to suicidal thoughts and ideations.”
She also noted that immigrants and refugees suffering from PTSD often do not seek out help right away. As they try to establish themselves in their new home, they might not pay attention to their mental health, only to realize the seriousness of their situation later.
Sometimes it only takes a few sessions to free people from these symptoms and help process their trauma, said Carter.
“However, time does not usually heal these symptoms,” she said. “Without therapy the symptoms can continue for many years, often as long as they live. Eradication of symptoms in children are often even shorter, but if they do not get the needed help their school careers may be destroyed and anger can keep them from becoming fully functional teens or adults.”
McLagan said PTSD never goes away.
“It doesn’t matter how many years pass, the impact of the traumatic experience is always there,” she said. “However, when the trauma is treated it can resolve in a very few sessions. Both Adrienne and I have witnessed this phenomena on many occasions, both overseas and at home.”