For the past forty-two years the Women's Center (WC) run by the St. John's Status of Women Council (SJSWC) has offered a weekly Drop-in Program, consisting of a light lunch, activities and information sessions. This flagship program, serving in excess of 1100 meals per year, provides an opportunity for women, who might otherwise feel marginalized, stigmatized and alone, to experience support, non-judgment, friendship and community.
SJSWC has identified a need for counselling services to be enfolded into their weekly Drop-in Program. Currently, WC staff provide informal counselling during the drop-in. But more intensive services are needed. Many of the women who participate in the program have complex trauma, addictions, and mental health concerns. They face sexual and domestic violence, housing instability, and a lack of community and familial support. Access to helping professionals is compromised by the complexity of their needs and the challenges these needs present for traditional mental health services. Long waiting lists for mental health services and a shortage of affordable skilled mental health professionals in the area compound the problem.
A Drop-In Counselling Program could meet the immediate needs of the women while they wait for traditional mental health services. Currently, without this timely support, opportune moments for change can be lost. The women's situations can worsen increasing their vulnerability and placing higher and unnecessary demands on crisis services. Although it may be possible to adapt elements of Single-Session Therapy (SST), typically delivered in walk-in counselling clinics, into our program design, the unique needs of the women and the mental health service realities here in St. John's, NL need to be considered.
The Public Engagement Quick Start Funds were used to strengthen collaboration between the SJSWC/WC and the School of Social Work in the design of a drop-in counselling initiative and in the development of evaluation measures.