With people peeking outside the window and cameras ready to shoot, it was almost like royalty had arrived in Richmond.
For members and staff of Pathways Clubhouse it was an exciting afternoon indeed, as they welcomed Liberal MP Justin Trudeau for a whirlwind visit Nov. 22.
He had taken time out of his busy schedule to discuss some pressing issues related to mental health.
Staff members were invited to partake in the round-table conversation, as Trudeau fired questions at them, too.
He repeatedly stressed the importance and value of empowering those affected by mental illness, referring directly to his mother, Margaret Trudeau, who has long struggled with mental health problems.
"All my life, I've had people coming up to me and tell me how much my father meant to them," he said of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
"But for the last four or five years, I've heard people talking about how much my mom has done for them."
He was inspired by his mother, who felt no shame about her bi-polar condition, nor about the fact she needed help, he recalled.
Lauding the work of the Richmond facility, he said nowadays there is not enough recognition or compensation for those taking care of the most vulnerable in society.
"Those who work here chose this for the glory and money," he joked, to which the whole room burst into laughter.
Yet he encouraged staff workers by stating, "we are not defined by what we get, but by what we have to offer."
On a heavier note, when confronted with the housing difficulties mentally ill residents often face, Trudeau assured he is committed to address the national housing strategy for all vulnerable groups, including single mothers, elderly and new immigrants.
He then returned the question by asking whether employment is hard to find for those experiencing mental health problems.
It is, according to Una Mulhall, employment program manager at Pathways.
"A lot of people don't understand what employment is, and what mental illness is; people with mental illness want to work," she said.
However, "they still face a stigma in the community, and I don't notice it getting any easier."
Fortunately, private partners who do hire people with mental health problems, tend to commit long-term.
Trudeau also honed in on the issue of home care.
He referred to Quebec, where he has seen many patients taken out of their hospital room and brought back into their home environment.
That solution leads to better quality of life, he said, which raises the need for adequate training and financial resources for home care workers.
The government has to ensure "(family) members taking care of others are not punished" for taking time off work, as they remain in fact productive and improve quality of care.
Trudeau's visit to Pathways was a win-win situation for him and the facility, leaving both parties inspired with ideas tossed back and forth around the table.