The United Church Foundation is mindful of our partners who support new beginnings.
Bridge House is a transition home in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, for up to six men who could otherwise be homeless when they finish serving provincial sentences in jail. In the following blog post, James Bowen, former Bridge executive director, reflects on what happened when the Bridge offered more evening social and educational programming.
The Bridge’s ministry is unique in being the only local organization that works specifically with men leaving provincial detention centres. While there are multiple organizations in Hamilton that offer educational programs to the general public, there are certainly no organizations that reach out to offer educational help to this population.
These men may be caught in a cycle of criminal behaviour, incarceration and homelessness, and may not have the ‘pro-social’ skills required to achieve their educational and occupational goals. They are vulnerable to homelessness, poverty, abuse, institutionalization and isolation, and need ongoing support beyond what is currently being offered.
Substance abuse, relapses, and acting out seldom occur in a vacuum, but they are rather the buildup of emotional stresses such as grief, anxiety, shame or other emotions. When clients have someone available to talk to, or alternate activities available, they receive the means to deal with these stresses in a healthy way which can lead to alternative decisions.
Our Bridge Education and Social Time (BEST) project enabled us to offer more evening programs and supportive services to build skills and meet particular individual needs.
We found that more often than not, clients would come foremost for the social relationships that they could develop with each other, staff and volunteers. Then, they would stay for the educational opportunities…rather than the other way around.
In this way, we found we are stronger together. We learned in new depth the value of our clients’ abilities to educate each other.
Our clients benefitted tremendously from education and support by Bridge staff, but also from the strength of other community resources in The Bridge’s neighbourhood such as by Mohawk College’s CitySchool and Mission Services.
Two clients began full-time programs at Mohawk College [and both] intend to move on to McMaster University. Another person participated in his first university course for credit, while two other people took individual courses at Mohawk College.
Five clients attended structured weekly addictions support resources. Seven clients got support in writing resumes and eight found computer support, improved their typing, or learned new internet skills.
One participant embraced this project upon its inception. He helped create its name and
attended faithfully. He enrolled in his first post-secondary program. Simultaneously, this same person has been enjoying the recreational activities during evenings, particularly developing his passion for board games. He decided to launch Barton Village Games, a weekly Friday night community games night.
We would tell others: make space for people who are ex-offenders to share their gifts and experiences!