‘Someone came along and loved me’: Crisis Teams offer life-saving human connections

Working with people in crisis requires empathy and understanding. Qualities Roland has in droves.


With more than 4 years under his belt on Hope Mission’s 24/7 Crisis Diversion team, he’s always ready for anything.


“Someone once said blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken,” he says, laughing. “We can’t have fine china working around here, we need Rubbermaid containers.”


The 24/7 Crisis Diversion initiative dispatches crisis diversion teams around the clock, 365 days a year. They respond to people who are in distress and vulnerable on the streets of Edmonton.


Roland’s positivity is irrepressible. He is able to meet clients where they are, with an immense humanity, no matter what kind of day they’re having.


“I was on a van this particular evening. We picked up this older in man who was quite intoxicated, and I had the incredible privilege of sitting in the back with him,” he recalls.


“I’m just talking to him and trying to understand why he was in the state he was in.


“He looks at me and says, ‘what do you whiteys know about that’?”


“I said, ‘I’m Inuit for crying out loud’. He says, ‘Well, you still wouldn’t understand’.”


The man began to tell Roland about his experiences in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools system.


“So I talked to him about how I was in residential school back in Newfoundland and Labrador, and my own experiences,” says Roland. “And he talked to me about this incredible pain he still carries around. He said, ‘it’s the only reason why I drink’.”


The man opened up to him about the day-to-day difficulty of living with the trauma he experienced as a child.


“He said: ‘you know, the pain from the trauma I experienced at residential school was so intense, when it comes to the surface the only thing that numbs it is alcohol. So I drink because I can’t handle the pain’.”


Having experienced this difficulty himself, Roland was able to connect with him through their shared experiences.


“I got him to sit down and I shared my story with him, and how I was able to overcome the pain,” he explains. “We need to seek to understand. There’s always a reason why people doing what they’re doing.”


Roland remembers when he himself was in a similar situation to the man he was helping that night.


“I always had this incredible statement that I would make to doctors. They would ask me: ‘Are you allergic to anything?’ And I would say: ‘Yes doc, I’m allergic to pain, and I keep it as far away from me as possible.”


Running from pain is a natural urge that Roland understands well. But the path to healing is often a painful journey.


“My Creator spoke to me one time and said: ‘I want to walk you to a place of wholeness. But you keep denying pain. If you keep running from pain, you’re not going to get anywhere’.”


After 45 years, the memory of the moment he found the courage to face the pain of his trauma is still as visceral as ever.


“I’m incredibly privileged that, through an experience that was so painful in my life, I was able to share and bring hope to this individual,” he says.  “I shared my story with this man, and he was crying. We spent time together and I prayed with him. I’ve never seen that gentleman ever again.”


“That story still moves me to this day,” he says. “I share my story with anyone who needs to hear it.”


Roland knows his story shows people who are struggling that there is hope. He can identify with the struggles, and knows the clients they serve are human beings, deserving of compassion and support.


“I think there’s so many people out there who are in pain and they haven’t found a way out of it and they’re using drugs or alcohol or something to numb that pain,” he says.


“I love being on the van with our people, because my life is not just my own. When I can share it with people, I’m sharing the realities of life, and I’m able to give them hope. If my Creator is able to take me and turn my life around, I believe he can do it for anyone.”


Roland says he himself wouldn’t be where he is today, if someone didn’t reach out to help him.


“Someone came a long and loved me. Someone invested in my life. I firmly believe that I’m no different than anyone we serve,” he says. “I’m so thankful for the privilege of being able to love and care for people.”


Roland insists that showing up to work every day is a privilege.


“Who would not want to do this job?” he asks.  “How can you not love that person? I have this incredible privilege to do this work. I love coming to work every day.”


Claire MacDonald,
Program Coordinator
REACH Edmonton

Madeleine Smith,
Co-director Community Initiatives
REACH Edmonton