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City hall hosts artwork that supports campaign to address mental health, homelessness

Bill and Laurette Keen crafted two metal trees as part of the “Stronger Together” campaign to raise awareness and support for mental health and homelessness in Moose Jaw.

The John Howard Society (JHS) is expressing appreciation to two artists who created an artwork that has raised — and continues to raise — money to support one of the organization’s programs. 

Bill and Laurette Keen crafted two metal trees as part of the “Stronger Together” campaign to raise awareness and support for mental health and homelessness in Moose Jaw. Residents and businesses could purchase metal leaves and have their names engraved, with those pieces attached to the trees.

All the money raised — $32,500 so far — will support the John Howard Society’s “My Place” program. 

It is still possible to purchase leaves; a bronze leaf is $100, silver is $200, and gold is $300. Cheques — payable to JHS — can be mailed to Square One Community Inc. at Box 1616, Moose Jaw, S6H 7K7, while online payments can be made at www.canadahelps.org.

Laurette Keen and representatives from the city, JHS and Square One Community Inc. gathered at city hall on Aug. 4 to celebrate the metal trees’ installation in the front entrance. 

The sculpture was originally at the JHS office but was moved to city hall for better exposure.  

“It’s really emotional for me (about) this tree. We’re so, so grateful that … the Stronger Together campaign (is) done for the My Place program,” said Jody Oakes, director of JHS. 

The program began in 2020 and has grown during the past two years, she continued. JHS knew there was a need to address homelessness but didn’t know how big that need was until staff began speaking with street people. 

“It (homelessness) is a big issue in our community … (but) I think there’s more and more awareness of it … ,” she remarked. 

My Place has grown to two full-time case workers from one, while it housed more than 80 people last year. 

JHS provides people with items such as snack bags, hygiene items, clothing or food because many lack those necessities, along with shelter, Oakes said. Moose Jaw also lacks a place where people can shower — the YMCA served that purpose — or use public water fountains. 

“When people don’t have that (shelter), people’s mental health and their substance use, it just becomes too much for people. And then people lose hope,” she continued. 

The My Place program has received plenty of support from numerous people and groups, all of whom have made a difference in people’s lives. Campaign funding has also helped JHS send its clients to Estevan for treatment and pay for the $300 taxi rides.

“And (these) people don’t have $300 to get to treatment. They’re people who are struggling as it is, so with something like this, we’re able to do that,” said Oakes. “And we’re able to give people hope … .”

Oakes thanked the Keens for supporting My Place since every metal leaf purchased represents a JHS client. 

Della Ferguson, chairwoman of Square One Community Inc., explained that when the Keens approached her about the project, they wanted to support people struggling with mental illness. Their conversation turned to supporting the My Place program because it addresses mental health and homelessness. 

“We are just so honoured to be a part of this … ,” she said. “When we looked at this tree and I (saw) the words ‘Stronger Together,’ (I thought) these trees (are) supporting each other, and that’s who we are as a community.”

The Keens are thrilled with how the project turned out and hope it can be a continuous initiative, said Mrs. Keen. Although space on the trees is limited, Mr. Keen plans to build metal ladders so more people can purchase leaves and support the community.

The start of the pandemic and deterioration of people’s mental health prompted the Keens to consider this project, she explained. Since the community has supported them over the past 50 years, they thought they could give back in a small way. 

“We had Della come over and she saw one of the sculptures in the house … and I’m telling you, it just went like that,” Mrs. Keen laughed. “And I’m like, ‘This is so good. Let’s just go with it and see what happens.’ And it’s been very good.” 

Mrs. Keen added that the sculpture’s location is great since it fits nicely with the municipality’s efforts to address homelessness.