A Typical Day in the Life of Centre 507

9 am — Workday begins

  • Staff, paid participant cleaner and, sometimes, volunteers arrive.
  • Cleaner sweeps and mops floors and stairs, cleans bathroom and, depending on the time of year, waters flowers or shovels snow.
  • Paid participant cook arrives at 9:30. Assesses what he has to work with and prepares snacks for the day, usually starting with a soup. The table is also set up with basic items, such as bread, spoons, sugar, cups, coffee and peanut butter.
  • Staff members make calls on behalf of participants to follow-up on a late social assistance cheque, make a referral for help in applying for a health card, and get a letter for a landlord that confirms that social assistance will cover the rent for a room.
  •  Participants may not have phones, answering machines and people at home to take messages, let alone the knowledge of community resources or the patience it takes to handle these tasks alone.
  •  The Ottawa Food Bank truck arrives with the weekly order.
  •  Off and on all day long, the manager moves from “the floor”, where he interacts with participants and staff, to his office, where he deals with schedules, payroll, funding applications, e-mails, phone calls and more.


12:00 pm — Doors open

  • There is a line-up of participants, as usual.
  •  Participants hurry to the snack tables. The period after opening is usually the busiest time of day.
  •  Games of chess, cribbage or backgammon spring up around the room. Amidst the banter and small talk, connections are made, and important information is shared. One of the staff members is losing at chess to a superior opponent. Another participant interrupts to ask where he can go to take a shower.
  •  A mental health worker from the Royal Ottawa Hospital and a psychiatrist chat quietly with a participant. Although it is very unusual for a doctor to be present, support workers from various health, housing and social agencies drop in regularly.
  •  A volunteer sits at a sewing machine in one corner of the room. While she mends a pair of pants for a participant, her husband chats with others and passes around a bucket of candies.
  •  An angry shout startles everyone as an agitated participant throws a soup bowl across the room. Turns out he has been drinking. He is escorted from the premises. Although such incidents are rare, staff is well-trained to deal with any conflict. (When the participant is allowed to return, a staff member meets with him one-on-one to discuss the incident.)
  •  Soon things are back to normal, and the room hums with conversation. Participants talk to each other, or staff. Most of it is small talk. But in one quiet spot, a participant shares feelings with a staff member about the end of a long-term relationship.
  •  A participant who works on and off spots a message on the board, returns a call and finds out he has landed a job as a tow truck driver.
  •  A small group of participants meets with a staff member for life skills training. They are discussing landlord-tenant problems and sources of help to deal with them.
  •  A participant meets with the manager in his office because he has just cashed his monthly cheque and wants to avoid blowing it right away. They work out a budget, and he leaves some of his money for safekeeping. They agree that he will collect a certain amount each week. Although he can change his mind, he cannot collect the money if he has been drinking.


3:30 pm — Closing time

  • Staff members, the manager and outreach staff hold a debrief session, as they do after every shift. They discuss how they feel, how the day is unfolding, how participants are doing and what they might need.
  •  They discuss the incident with the angry participant — what they saw, what might have led up to it, how it was handled and how long the participant should be barred.
  •  Staff and the paid participant cleaner clean up, restock and set up for the evening.


5:30 pm — Centre re-opens


  • Another line-up and more snacks. A staff member sorts through toothpaste Another line-up and more snacks. A staff member sorts through toothpaste, razors, shaving cream and deodorant with a participant, who asks where he can go to do laundry. He then goes to the washroom to wash up and shave.
  •  A woman who is a newcomer to the centre chats with a staff member. Before too long, she confides that she is working as a sex trade worker and has nowhere to stay. While she naps on the couch, the staff member arranges for her to stay at a shelter. She is also allowed to make a long distance call to a family friend in her hometown.
  •  A participant signs up for a free haircut from a volunteer who drops in on Sunday afternoons.
  •  A participant sits with the manager at the computer. He has applied for social housing in a city where he plans to move, but he wants to revise his application to encompass more apartment buildings. Since he is not comfortable using a computer, the manager walks him through the process.
  •  Alone or in small groups, participants are chatting, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. It’s movie night, so some are gathered around the TV. At times like this the Centre really is, as one participant said in a survey, a living room.


9 pm — End of workday