An Edmontonian who used to be homeless has grown more confident and independent since a pair of volunteer friends came into his life about three years ago.
Back in 2010, Gilles Pilon was staying at the Hope Mission and Herb Jamieson Centre while he worked at McDonalds. But then he started struggling.
“Things started falling apart. I started going downhill and downhill like a roller coaster.”
Diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder, Pilon lost his job.
But thanks to community supports, he ended up working his way back.
In 2014, Edmonton’s Housing First initiative helped him find his own home.
People sometimes encounter challenges when transitioning from the streets into permanent housing – and that’s where Catholic Social Services is helping fill a void.
“They don’t have a lot of social connection,” Welcome Home co-ordinator Stephanie Medford explained.
“They may have left behind their communities on the streets, they may not be in touch with friends and family.
“They’re quite isolated and lonely in their new place a lot of the time and they found that was a huge barrier to them keeping their housing.”
The program, which started in 2012, is currently helping around 50 people.
“We match each participant with two volunteers who meet with them regularly to spend time with them, develop a relationship, do fun things, get them out of the house and into the community, give them that social connection they may be lacking,” Medford said.
Pilon needed that companionship.
“For the first little while, yes, you were basically alone, lonely,” he said. “You didn’t have contact with anybody.”
For three years, Pilon has been matched with volunteer Helen Gledhow. More recently, her husband David too.
“The idea of being able to befriend someone and share some good times with them is really good. That’s what I enjoy about it,” David said.
The couple have taken Pilon out for coffee, to restaurants and to watch movies.
“We’ve been to Fort Edmonton and we carry our basket and have a picnic and spend hours walking around the place,” Helen explained – noting Pilon has a keen interest in history.
These volunteers say while Welcome Home is designed to assist Pilon, it’s also been rewarding for them.
“It’s such a good feeling,” Helen said.
“It’s something worthwhile to belong to, something where you can see the benefits of it. It’s a good way to spend some of my time.”
After spending between four and eight hours a month together, the trio now has a special bond.
“We talk on the phone once or twice a week just to see how everybody is doing. We make each other laugh. We’ve been there for each other, they’ve been there for me,” Gilles explained.
“If I need a shoulder to cry on, or something is going on in my life, they’re there. It’s kind of like family.”