Jack McCarthy has been the executive director of Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) for the past 27 years and has been a pillar in the community health centre. This summer, he will be passing the baton as he is gearing up for retirement. I had a chance to talk with McCarthy to reflect back on all the transformations that took place in this community and his role at SWCHC over the years.
Tell me a bit about yourself and when you started working at SWCHC.
I have a master’s degree in social work with a focus on community development. I started at SWCHC in July 1989. Before coming to SWCHC, I was the executive director at Carlington Community Centre. What attracted me to the SWCHC position was the health component.
How has our community changed over the years?
There has been massive gentrification. There is a lot of upscale housing being built and a decrease in the number of rooming houses. There is also a shift in terms of ethnic groups. There use to be larger Vietnamese and Italian communities and now we see more Franco-African cultures. Also, the walkability of the neighbourhood has improved.
How might some of these changes threaten the health of our community?
The decrease in social housing is worrisome. We have to remember that a healthy and vibrant community means there is ethnic diversity as well as diversity in income levels. I am excited about the activity that is happening with LeBreton Flats, but we have to have the conversation about sustainable living for everyone. We need to increase the amount of social housing in our community. According to the 2015 Alliance to End Homelessness’ progress report, in 2015 there were only 34 new affordable units in Ottawa. That is worrisome.
What was one of the most memorable initiatives/activities in this community?
The work that we have done and are doing to improve refugee health. We see it now with the Syrian refugees, as SWCHC is one of the lead organizations with Refugee 613. However, in this community, refugee health has always been a priority. This started with Project 4000 in 1979, when Mayor Marion Dewar challenged Ottawa residents to privately sponsor 4,000 refugees fleeing Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.
Once the refugee population has settled, they tend to move out of our community into the suburbs. However, in response to that, we work with other agencies to offer outreach clinics in these areas to ensure that they are getting the support they need.
What is next for you?
I would like to enjoy my time off and do some travelling and volunteer. I would like to practice “being” as opposed to “doing.”
What are some visions you have for the community moving forward?
I would like see a really solid community development plan that is population-based and needs-based. This would start by having a symposium that would bring together all the stakeholders (community residents, the city, the federal government, developers, etc.) to talk about what we want as a community. Bring in some global experts to get their insights. I would also like to see the community health centre model strengthen with particular expertise to support the vulnerable populations.