Housing, homelessness top priorities for new advisor on vulnerable Islanders

Carlene Donnelly, P.E.I.'s new advisor on programs and services for vulnerable Islanders, is shown during a live interview on CBC News: Compass this week. (CBC - image credit)
Carlene Donnelly, P.E.I.'s new advisor on programs and services for vulnerable Islanders, is shown during a live interview on CBC News: Compass this week. (CBC - image credit)

The government of P.E.I.'s new advisor helping the premier and cabinet review programs and services for vulnerable Islanders is starting to take stock of what the job will require.

Carlene Donnelly is currently the executive director of CUPS, a non-profit organization in Calgary that helps people overcome poverty. She was born in P.E.I., and will bring over 30 years of social service experience home with her.

Donnelly said one of her priorities will be building pathways to housing.

"A big issue here is housing, and really being able to have somewhere to move people out to," she told CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin in an interview this week.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic amplified many of the issues facing vulnerable people.

"It has literally been a mental health crisis. Addictions — drugs on the street are stronger and more harsh than anything we've ever seen," Donnelly said. "Homelessness has increased [and] the economy and cost of living is certainly not helping."

Donnelly also addressed concerns that many Islanders have expressed about the locations of services for vulnerable people.

"There's a lot of good evidence that tells you services have to be within proximity, where they can access them. Most individuals that are very vulnerable do not have access to a vehicle or transportation of any kind," she said.

Where to start?

You start with getting a good sense of what's going on, and then prepare a work plan for where to go from there, Donnelly said.

"It really comes down to partnerships and navigation with who's doing what," she said. "What's the purpose? How do we know when we're successful? And then, where can we exit people to? Are they getting all the support they need? And then, can we move them on to the next stage?"

Carlene Donnelly, the current executive director of the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS).
Carlene Donnelly, the current executive director of the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS).

Carlene Donnelly, the current executive director of CUPS, a non-profit in Calgary, will work as an advisor to the P.E.I. government on programs and services for vulnerable Islanders. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

There are roadblocks on P.E.I. and there is room for improvement, said Donnelly, but she believes there is good work happening now in the province.

"As we pull together, you know, come together with political will and community will, I think we can add to those processes, strengthen the connections, and really kind of build better pathways," she said.

"There's lots of programs and tools that over the last 30 years I have implemented, and I've helped other cities and provinces implement, and we're going to have a robust conversation about these.

"I think people are definitely ready to hear some good news."