In the next two installments of ‘How we CARE,’ we will shine a light on the vital work of The Advocacy Centre and its staff. The services mentioned in this article are free of charge and barrier-free.

Having someone in your corner is priceless, whether a parent, coworker, partner or friend. The Advocacy Centre has filled that role helping thousands of clients for over 30 years.

The Advocacy Centre is probably the least known and least understood program that Nelson CARES provides. Amy Taylor is the Program Manager, and Becky Quirk is the Legal Advocate. Between them, they have a combined 40 years of experience working at the Advocacy Centre.

The anonymity of The Advocacy Centre probably has a lot to do with the nature of the work. The Centre deals with income assistance, family law, tenancy, poverty survival and relationship and sexual violence – all very personal and delicate issues that may feel embarrassing or too intimate to share with casual friends or coworkers. The work is always delivered in complete confidentiality so that it is not broadly known in our community.

The Advocacy Centre was one of the first of its kind in British Columbia. Its client-centred approach to advocacy has been replicated across the province, with over 40 such centres now doing similar work. The Advocacy Centre’s work falls into three main categories: Legal Advocacy/Poverty Law, Family Law and Community Based Victim Services. There is a quarterly stakeholder meeting with the Ministry of Social Development to work on systems change for the benefit of all clients across the province.

Much of the Legal Advocacy/Poverty Law work is about helping clients access supports and navigate systems such as the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. This can include: Income Assistance Benefits, Provincial Disability Benefits, Canada Pension Plan Disability, Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement, including appeals if benefits are denied. These benefits support our community in helping to live more stable and dignified lives.

Sharing client stories of this work can be a challenge as most folks want to maintain their privacy, but we have permission to share this story from a few years ago.

Jim had been on income assistance for many years and later in life was diagnosed with dementia. The income assistance he was on wasn’t sufficient to meet his needs, and every few months, he would be at the office requesting the ‘crisis supplement.’

Becky stated about Jim’s case, “To come in all the time to have to ask for crisis money is a manifestation of the fact that his life was on the edge and constantly falling off the wrong side of the edge.”

Jim was eligible for the Persons with Disability benefits, but the application process at the time was an 18-page document. This was an insurmountable challenge for Jim to overcome on his own. Yet, with the help of The Advocacy Centre in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Development, he received this benefit. He never came into the office again needing crisis money.

The true effect of how accessing these benefits have impacted Jim’s life may never be known. But one could guess that it reduced stress and increased dignity – all for accessing benefits he was qualified to receive.

Many things have changed with how the Advocacy Centre delivers its services. In the past, clients had caseworkers at the Ministry of Social Development. That allowed Amy and Becky to call and discuss each client’s individual needs with someone at the local Ministry office who was familiar with that client. The Ministry’s move to more telephone and online service, with clients interacting with different workers from across the province, has created challenges for many – challenges that may have been insurmountable without The Advocacy Centre’s client focused support.

Both Becky and Amy said that they have stayed at The Advocacy Centre for so many years because of their coworkers, the clients, their passion for the work and that it allows them to feel like they are contributing to the community.

And at its heart, that’s what Nelson CARES is about: contributing to the community. And in the case of the Advocacy Centre, it’s extremely fortunate to have community support in the form of funding from the Province of British Columbia, the Law Foundation of BC, and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. The Advocacy Centre also benefits from financial support from Legal Aid BC to connect community members with legal advice, representation, and information.

There’s a lot more to Nelson CARES than many may realize, and through this series, it’s hoped our community will come to better understand the benefits it provides to everyone in our region.

This is only a portion of The Advocacy Centre story. We will be highlighting the work of the Family Law Advocate as well as the Community Based Victim Services and Safe Kids and Youth positions in the second of this two part article which will be published on Friday, Oct 12th.