A unique partnership between two charities and CLAC Training is breaking down barriers to help lift vulnerable people out of poverty, off the streets, and into meaningful employment
EARLY LAST YEAR, RON WAS living in a drop-in centre for homeless people in Calgary. He had returned to Canada after years of military service. Left without sufficient supports, he quickly slipped into homelessness.
According to statistics of homelessness among Canadian veterans, Ron is not alone. The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016, a study published by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press, reported that 2,950 veterans were staying in shelters, making up 2.2 percent of annual shelter users. Further, about 25 percent of the veteran population in Canada faced difficulties transitioning from military service to civilian life and faced an increased risk of homelessness, mental illness, and addictions.
In an attempt to regain control of his life, Ron turned to The Mustard Seed, a registered charity providing services to adults experiencing poverty and homelessness. He enrolled in Seed Academy, a five-day workshop, with four hours of sessions each day, aimed at equipping clients with the skills they need to be job ready.
“I told my instructors I needed a career change and some hope,” says Ron. “I graduated in March 2018 and was eager to begin my hunt for new employment.”
But to gain entry into a security position—a field that both Ron and his employment coach felt would be a natural fit given his military background—Ron needed first-aid certification. After completing his security guard course with Columbia College, he enrolled in a first-aid course provided by CLAC Training at the union’s Calgary Member Centre.
“By the end of May 2018, I was able to secure full-time employment as a security guard,” says Ron. “I was able to afford my own place to live.”
Today, Ron is still employed and no longer homeless. He’s one of many individuals helped by the unique partnership formed between The Mustard Seed, the CLAC Foundation, and CLAC Training.
THE MUSTARD SEED HAS BEEN serving people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Alberta since the 1980s. Based in Calgary, with locations in Edmonton, Red Deer, and Kamloops, BC, it helps to meet the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, and acceptance for men and women experiencing poverty, and works with them to find sustainable housing, employment, or whatever they need. The Mustard Seed’s holistic, multifaceted approach focusses on “building community, growing hope, and supporting change” and improving each person’s physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Recognizing that the root cause of poverty and homelessness are complex and diverse, The Mustard Seed’s Employment Centre was established to challenge the stereotypes and stigmas of homelessness and assist individuals in making lasting change. Its fully mobile team of employment coaches provides support to those currently experiencing poverty and/or homelessness, working to diminish barriers to employment and facilitate job placement.
In addition to providing support in finding work, “The Seed”—as most of its staff and clients affectionately refer to it—provides vital ongoing support to both the employer and the employee during the transition into new work situations. It believes that all individuals, homeless or not, have strengths and skills to bring to the workplace.
“Through partnering with the community, we’re building futures,” says Alexander Kulakov, employment program supervisor for The Mustard Seed in Calgary. “And for the many individuals facing barriers to employment, it begins with planting a seed of hope.”
It’s this shared belief and commitment to breaking down barriers to meaningful employment that led The Mustard Seed and the CLAC Foundation to find a way to work together in a simple but meaningful partnership. Through the foundation, CLAC Training has been providing The Mustard Seed clients with in-class courses, field training, and trade certifications since 2016 at no cost.
Hundreds of street-entrenched individuals and individuals at risk for homelessness have received certifications in essential health and safety courses such as first aid and CPR, fall protection, and confined space entry. They’ve taken courses in industrial and heavy equipment operation such as multiple types of forklift training, skid steer, and zoom boom.
In addition, CLAC Training provided all online certifications such as WHMIS, CSTS (construction safety training system) and BBS (behaviour-based safety) required for work in any skilled labour position.
This zero-cost model is funded by the CLAC Foundation and facilitated by CLAC Training. From April 2018 to October 2018 alone, more than 100 people obtained training and certifications from this partnership between The Mustard Seed’s employment services, the CLAC Foundation, and CLAC Training. During that time, 311 Mustard Seed clients successfully found part-time and full-time positions. Over the last three years of partnership, the CLAC Foundation has funded over $50,000 of training courses.
Here are the stories of just a few of the many people who have been helped by this unique partnership between The Mustard Seed, the CLAC Foundation, and CLAC Training.
“I had been living on the streets of Calgary for over five years—sleeping rough, utilizing shelters, and regularly using drugs. At the age of 43, I had an eye-opening experience that led me to a rehabilitation program.
“After three months of treatment, I connected with The Mustard Seed. I began working with an employment coach, with the goal of being able to do sustainable work.
“Prior to becoming homeless, I worked as a journeyman roofer and had my own roofing company. To be considered for employment with roofing companies, I needed a number of safety tickets such as fall protection, WHMIS, and first aid.
“I was able to finish these required training courses with CLAC Training. This led me to a job as a foreman for an interprovincial roofing company.
“I have now been working with them for over three months. As a result of the recovery process, I have been able to reconnect with my family and enjoy a renewed relationship with my grandson.”
“I’m a newcomer to Canada fleeing from domestic violence. I found a safe place to reside in a local family shelter in Calgary with my daughter.
“After I met with my employment coach, I realized that I didn’t have enough experience or qualifications to look for employment in healthcare—the field where I most wanted to work. Throughout the work with my employment coach, I identified that I might be a good fit for being a healthcare aide, since I had previous experience working in this field.
“The Mustard Seed employment program sent me one of their employment contacts. The job interview went well, and I was hired conditionally.
“One of the conditions prior to hiring was that I complete first-aid training. The Seed connected me with CLAC Training, and I was able to obtain the certification for free with the help of the CLAC Foundation in less than two days.
“I’m now working full-time, living in my own place with my daughter. I’m working toward pursuing a professional healthcare aide designation.”
“I was laid off from my previous job in production work where I was doing packaging and general labour. I was finding it difficult to get back in the groove to look for work again.
“When I joined The Mustard Seed’s employment program, I was looking for hope to somehow upgrade my skills and get back in the job market. I was facing some personal relationship problems.
“I was lost and stuck in my career direction and overwhelmed by looking for work. Joining the employment program helped boost my emotional state. I got the support from my employment coach that I needed to increase my self-esteem as well as to hone my job-searching skills, including getting forklift training through CLAC Training.
“Two weeks after I got my forklift ticket, I got a job as a forklift operator! I’m working full-time and renting my own place because of this job.
“The training I received through CLAC Training helped make me very confident in this career decision. Now, I’m inspired to keep moving forward to achieve my life goals.”
“I found The Mustard Seed’s employment service after my addiction recovery. Prior to developing a substance abuse disorder, I worked as a Red Seal welder for over 15 years and took pride in my very needed and qualified profession.
“Unfortunately, in 2015, the Alberta oil crisis affected thousands of professionals like myself—electricians, welders, plumbers, and other skilled labourers. There was no work in my local community, so I accepted work up north. I worked numerous two- to three-month contracts, often worked seven days a week, and was away from my family, friends, and home for long periods of time.
“I became addicted to alcohol and was consequently discharged from two work assignments. After returning to Calgary, I couldn’t find work. Out of desperation, I paired up with an employment coach at The Seed.
“Working together, me and my coach identified that I had valuable experience being a heavy equipment operator. But I didn’t have the tickets or qualifications necessary for securing employment in this trade.
“CLAC Training provided a skid steer operator course and qualifications as well as a zoom boom course. This launched a new career for me.
“These certifications and my class one driver’s license allowed me to obtain a full-time job offer from a reputable construction company. I’m working now on engineering and construction projects.”
“I signed up for the Seed Academy in June 2018 with hopes of becoming a peer support worker. I had struggled with alcohol addictions and mental illness for years, and I wanted to give back to others.
“I had recently completed treatment and found this gave me a new chance with new and improved coping strategies. I wanted to show others that they too could have a fresh start.
“My employment coach knew I would need first aid to work with my dream company, so The Mustard Seed reached out to CLAC Training and got me signed up for training right away. Having a first-aid certificate gave me the skills I needed to have for my resume.
“Exactly one month later, I secured a job as a support worker, but it was only part-time. I continued to look for full-time work, and in October, I was able to secure full-time employment as a peer support worker—my dream job!”
If you would like to help others get off the street and pursue meaningful employment, please consider making a donation to The Mustard Seed and the CLAC Foundation. All donations are tax deductible and can be made online.
Homeless in Canada
Homelessness fast facts
- 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night.
- 235,000 experience homelessness in a year.
- 27.3% are women.
- 18.7% are youth.
- 24.4% are older (50+).
- 28 –34% of shelter populations are Indigenous (4.3% of Canadians are Indigenous).
- 2.2% of shelter populations are veterans.
- 10% is the increase in shelter occupancy rate between 2005 and 2014.
Average length of stay
- 10 days – Youth and adults
- 20 days – Older adults (50+) and families
A significant number of Canadians have experienced hidden homelessness, which refers to people who have had to live temporarily with family, friends, or in their car because they had nowhere else to live.
Who experiences hidden homelessness?
8% of Canadians have experienced hidden homelessness at some point in their lives:
- 12% of people who are victims of a crime
- 25% of people who have experienced both physical and sexual abuse before age 15
- 21% of people with a psychological disability
- 20% of people with a learning disability
- 6% of people without a disability
Duration of hidden homelessness
- 18% – One year or more
- 55% – Less than one year but more than one month
- 27% – Less than one month
Sources: homelesshub.ca, Statistics Canada
Grand Moutardier du Pape
Mustard seeds have been used in cooking since prehistoric times and were used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. But it was the Romans who turned them into the condiment we know today by mixing crushed seeds with unripened grape juice. They brought it with them when they conquered the region that would later become France. Dijon, France, became established as a mustard-making centre in the 13th century, while the common yellow variety was created in 1904 by R. T. French for the St. Louis World Fair.
Pope John XXII, who lived in Avignon, France, loved mustard so much that he allegedly created the position of grand moutardier du pape—mustard maker to the pope—in the 14th century.
If you’re a big mustard fan, like Pope John, you can visit the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Admission is free. The museum has a collection of over 6,000 mustards from more than 70 countries. And mark August 4 on your 2019 calendar to celebrate National Mustard Day!
Did You Know?
When it comes to mustard seed production, Canada dominates. We are the world’s biggest supplier, growing 28 percent of all mustard seed in the world. We are also by far the largest exporter, with 44 percent of the global market. With ideal growing conditions in the Prairies, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the top mustard seed-growing provinces.
Sources: encyclopedia.com, britannica.com, fooducate.com, factfish.com, telegraph.co.uk, mustardmuseum.com