Even though I’ve only been on the job as Executive Director at TAPS since early October, I can already tell that there is something very special about this organization and its devoted team of staff and volunteers. There can be no mistake that I have incredibly large shoes to fill, with the departure of Kelly Newhook, someone who in many ways became synonymous with the success of this organization. Luckily, I find myself surrounded by a staff that couldn’t be more dedicated and capable of independently advocating for our clients.
Before moving to Victoria in July of this year, I worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for a legal advocacy group called Pivot Legal Society. During my stay at Pivot, a non-profit society similar in size to TAPS, I saw periods when the organization expanded as new opportunities presented themselves, and difficult times when financial instability led to retraction. Throughout the years, though, my friends and co-workers at Pivot taught me a valuable lesson: instead of trying to dictate every aspect of the organization’s work—what should be done, how to do it—the role of the Executive Director, first and foremost, should be to create and maintain a well-resourced and healthy environment, where staff have the tools they need to confidently make decisions and flourish in their work.
And there is certainly a lot of work in front of us. TAPS is one of the largest providers of legal advocacy services in British Columbia, and is responsible for a truly awe-inspiring amount of service to more and more clients every year. Sadly, despite positive developments in many aspects of our work, and commitments by government to implement a poverty reduction strategy, the number of people needing our help is not likely to go down any time soon.
When we look back at 2017 we will likely remember it for the multiple levels of crisis that have made life difficult and tragic for low-income and marginalized residents: a housing crisis that continues to drive up rents and home prices, and drive out low-income people, who are increasingly unable to access the private rental market at all; an opioid overdose crisis that, from January up to September only, took the lives of 155 people on Vancouver Island, making 2017 already the worst year on record. These are difficult and stressful times for low-income people in our province, people who need support and solidarity now more than ever.
There will be a lot of learning in my first few months on the job, and a lot of new relationships to form, but I am incredibly honoured to join the TAPS team, and am optimistic that 2018 will be another successful year for one of BC’s oldest and most trusted legal advocacy organizations.