The director of LOFT’s Mental Health and Justice Initiative shares the challenges her clients face and the ways our #OneTeam supports them.
Cylene remembers watching a documentary on homelessness and telling her husband, “That’s what I want to do.” She first joined LOFT in 2000, supporting our Street Outreach Van in York Region.
Now the Program Director of LOFT’s Mental Health and Justice Initiative (MHJI), Cylene helps to provide supportive housing and intensive one-on-one support services to individuals with serious mental illness and recent or current involvement with the criminal justice system.
She works to develop relationships with hospitals, community landlords and other health care organizations, ensuring that her team is prepared to provide the best care for their clients. “I know all of them by face and where they live,” Cylene says. “I think it’s important to have that personal connection. It is part of LOFT’s culture.”
Invested in her clients, Cylene is aware of the prejudice they face. “When people hear ‘mental health and justice’ they have a preconceived notion of the people we work with,” she says. “What they don’t realize is that our clients are beautiful. They may have committed a crime when they were unwell, but they’re amazing people.”
Another challenge facing Cylene’s clients is loneliness. As a population that has historically been marginalized, they’re facing even greater isolation with the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have had to be creative and flexible,” Cylene says. “Before COVID-19, we had a social recreation program. Now we use technology, supporting our clients as we navigate new ways to stay in touch with each other.”
The pandemic has been a triggering experience for many. “People who believe in conspiracy theories, and those living with obsessive-compulsive disorder around germs, have been heavily affected,” Cylene explains. “We have had to step in and be more present in order to help our clients cope. We are the only support many of them have in their lives.”
When not at work, Cylene likes to make jewelry. “Setting metal on fire is a great stress reliever,” she says with a smile. “I’m also a wife, and mom to two amazing little girls. It’s been a challenge to balance home schooling and work. There’s definitely a learning curve, but it is awesome that both my work family and home family have grown stronger because of COVID.”
Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges facing Asian Canadians, and the importance of speaking up in the face of discrimination. “My family is Jamaican Chinese. When we immigrated to Canada, almost 50 years ago now, I remember being the only Chinese person in my school,” Cylene says. “There was a lot of verbal abuse. Part of the message for me, as a person who has lived through that, is to ensure that people are mindful of their hurtful words.”
“We need to speak up. If we don’t talk about it, it becomes the norm. We need to be advocates and allies for ourselves, but it also speaks to the empowerment of our clients. Yes, we might have been stigmatized and oppressed, but we can be strong. We can reclaim our power and use it for good.”