New crisis diversion team helps homeless couple find their way home

After spending two years on the streets, an Edmonton couple is overjoyed to be spending their nights in their new apartment thanks to intervention and support from the 24/7 Mobile Assistance Program (MAP) team, run by Bissell Centre. Annabelle Cook and Lawrence Mountain-Cook moved to Edmonton in 2011 to reconnect their children to their roots, but after a few months they fell on hard times. After losing their apartment, the couple was robbed of their identification - making it impossible to get a hotel room even when they had the money. They soon found themselves on the street, thinking it would be only a short-term predicament. "I was holding my wife, crying and praying, thinking maybe this will be just a couple days," said Lawrence. "I didn't know those couple days would turn into a couple years. Sleeping here, sleeping there, and you always have to worry about who's going to come and bother you in your little camp." The pair spent two years living mostly in the river valley - moving their camp regularly, constantly working to stay dry and avoid sickness as best they could. In May of this year, the Cooks flagged down the 24/7 MAP team to assist a friend who was being attacked in the street. After this, they heard about how the MAP team helps people address the often-overlooked barriers to housing for those in need - outstanding bills, credit ratings and acquiring identification and fixed addresses for paperwork. The Cooks remained skeptical, but walked into the Bissell Centre one day to see the MAP team. "We thought, alright, this is great but just wait, we'll hit a wall just like we did with every other agency," said Lawrence. "But it just kept moving forward and moving forward and then the day they gave us the keys to the apartment I cried, I was so overwhelmed." The Cooks were handed the keys to their home July 5. "They came through for us in that short a period," said Lawrence. "We got a home. I'm glad we got a home now. It gives me more strength. I feel more energetic, my health's not degraded. It feels a whole lot better knowing I can sleep safer." Deanna Garcia, Manager of the 24/7 MAP team, says the team runs into skepticism from clients often, but the team persists and is slowly but surely changing minds on Edmonton's streets. "When you offer them help, they're like, 'Yeah right, you're one of those people, one of those do-gooders'," said Garcia. "But we really are, we don't take no for an answer... and we don't leave a person alone until we're sure they're okay." The 24/7 MAP team is run by Bissell Centre, in partnership with REACH Edmonton and Homeward Trust. Since the team first hit the streets April 30 of this year, eight people have been housed and 289 people have come into contact with the team as of July 31. The MAP team is dedicated to helping any Edmontonian in crisis who is not necessarily in need of police or ambulance. The team works with emergency responders and police to divert people in crisis from costly emergency services to resources in the community that are dedicated to addressing the root causes of crisis - whether it be addictions, mental illness or housing instability. Members of the public can contact the MAP team by calling 211.