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 as they welcomed Liberal MP Justin Trudeau for a visit.
Trudeau, in a bid for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party, was in town to discuss issues related to mental health. Staff members were invited to partake in the round-table discussion, where Trudeau spent as much time asking questions as he did answering them.
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 telling me how much my father meant to them," he said of the late former Prime Minister Pierre 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 bipolar 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 serious note, when told about the challenges mentally ill people face regarding housing, Trudeau assured the group he is committed to forming a national housing strategy for all vulnerable groups, including single mothers, the 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 that people with mental illness want to work, just like everyone else," 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.
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