Written by Louise Gallagher.

From would-be priest to Executive Director of Canada’s largest homeless shelter, Dermot Baldwin’s career of service to humankind has been a storied journey of touching lives and changing the path of homelessness in Calgary. On December 31, 2010 Baldwin, 68, will retire as Executive Director of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre Society. It will be a bittersweet moment. It will be the beginning of a new era built on the legacy of one man’s commitment to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

DI Supervisor, Heather with Dermot Baldwin

“I have been deeply moved and humbled through my experience at the DI,” Baldwin said at a Board meeting held Thursday, October 14, to formally announce his retirement. “It has been gratifying over these past 16 years to have the support of so many Calgarians helping us move from providing just night services to providing round the clock care, 365 days of the year to those experiencing homelessness. Ultimately, however, it is the lives of the human beings we serve that have touched me most and confirmed my belief in the imperative of what we do.”

Baldwin took over leadership of the agency in 1994 after a fourteen-year career with Alberta Family and Social Services. Since moving into the Executive Director position, Baldwin has overseen the agency’s response to changing times and changing needs, moving it beyond daytime only food and shelter to include wrap-around services. The DI meets the diverse needs of Calgary’s homeless population from Intox and Emergency shelter to Transitional housing.

Under Baldwin’s guidance, the agency has extended its care to include counselling, employment placement, job training, woodwork shop and training program, arts programming, senior-specific services, medical care and a host of services designed to end homelessness every day, one person at a time. Additionally, the Agency has invested in two affordable housing units, Bridgeland Manor, a supported living apartment building in Bridgeland for homeless seniors and The Sundial, affordable housing for working clients transitioning from the shelter. The Strategic Plan identifies purchase of additional affordable housing units as a key priority over the next three years.

“Dermot’s visionary role in creating leading-edge, compassionate care in the sector is legendary,” says Jeff Kushner, President of the Board. “We have been fortunate to have had his guidance as the agency has had to respond to the impact in Calgary of the nation-wide trend of increased homelessness over the past two decades.”

The Board of Directors has appointed Debbie Newman as Executive Director, effective January 1, 2011. Debbie joined the agency in 1995 as a Social Worker/Counsellor. Under Baldwin’s mentorship Debbie has overseen Program Services and, for the past year and a half, held the position of Associate Executive Director. “Debbie brings an extensive background in social work and delivery of care in homelessness to her new role as Executive Director,” says Kushner. “We are delighted to have an individual with such depth in both the agency and the sector. We look forward to growing our leadership role as providers of excellence in care under Debbie’s mandate as we continue to deliver on our mission of preventing homelessness where possible, offering care and shelter when needed and providing opportunities for people to rehabilitate and rebuild their lives.”

In 2009 the Board of Directors along with Baldwin and Newman crafted a Strategic Plan for 2009 – 2013. The Plan’s four strategic goals will underpin Ms Newman’s focus for the next three years as she works with the Board to further strengthen the DI’s ability to meet the needs of people who are homeless or at risk in a respectful, comprehensive and safe way. The Agency’s four key goals are: To effectively meet Calgary’s changing needs for homeless shelter and care; To be a valued presence in the community; To be the employer of choice; and, To strengthen our impact through strong ties with civic and provincial governments, funders and community organizations.

About the DI

The DI is a friendly and supportive environment where, along with food and shelter, individuals find the necessary tools and help they need to stabilize, rehabilitate and rebuild their lives. Open 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day, the DI is a safe alternative to life on the street. In 2009 approximately 12,000 distinct individuals used the DI’s shelter services with 89% of those individuals staying less than three weeks. The DI shelters 1200 people per night and serves approximately 3500 meals a day. In addition, using its highly successful 50% market rent/50% affordable housing model, the Agency owns and operates two affordable housing units in or near the downtown core: Bridgeland Manor, a 49 suite supported living for seniors, and The Sundial, a 119 suite high rise in the core.