Jul 1, 2017
One exceptional individual has been delivering frontline support since the start of Street Health’s Community Health Program and in 2017; this year he is being recognized for 20 years of service.
In the summer of 1997, years before mental health awareness was recognized as an integral part of healthcare, Maurice Adongo was one of two Outreach Workers assisting the growing population who lived on the streets. “Initially our work focused on helping individuals find a doctor or get a consultation to obtain a diagnosis,” remembers Maurice. “Over time this role evolved into providing both short and long-term intensive case management.”
As the number of clients continued to grow, the Community Health Team has also grown to now include five Case Workers who support individuals diagnosed with mental health conditions. People diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be misunderstood, marginalized, and may sometimes fall through the cracks. “The statistics say that one in five adult Canadians will be diagnosed with a mental health illness in the course of their lives.
Our clients live in extreme situations, particularly those who are on the streets and in shelters. They need a trusting and respectful relationship that can help them deal with day-to-day challenges. The stories that colleagues share about Maurice’s work capture how treating clients with dignity and respect is at the heart of his work. One day a client who had worked with Maurice for many years arrived in an agitated state -swearing, aggressive posturing, pent up angst. Maurice came out, looked at this man and told him he could see he was upset. Next Maurice began to laugh… not at his client, but in an inviting way. The man looked at Maurice and began to laugh too, and they walked away together with their arms over each other’s shoulder. This example highlights Maurice’s work beautifully; he is intuitive, effective, and knows the worth of being joyful. His approach is rooted in a deep understanding of what it is to suffer, to persevere, and to always have compassion.
Maurice came to Canada as a refugee from Kenya and says his experiences as a political prisoner shaped his perspective in what he does today. He applies wisdom, empathy, and shrewd negotiation skills to supporting his clients’ needs. Advocating for housing, arranging a work placement opportunity, providing support in a courtroom, educating family and community members. Maurice also openly shares his years of experience with new frontline staff, placement students and management. As his colleagues note, “Sorry, I’m too busy” is not in Maurice’s vocabulary. He works with a quiet passion and integrity. ”Fortunately we’re moving from stigmatizing to building support for individuals who struggle with mental health issues”, notes Maurice. “When we support a client to leave the chaos of the streets, everything is possible.”
In 2017, Maurice was awarded the Bhayana Family Foundation Award for Leadership, presented by the United Way of Toronto and York Region. These awards showcase the dedication, creativity and team spirit essential to creating stronger communities and, as the colleagues who nominated him acknowledge, his work is well-known…new clients come in and ask for him by name!