Halifax Heroes: Friends remember Susan Cusack, a social services 'warrior and trailblazer'
Cusack, 54, passed away on Oct.7 after years of working in community and family centres.
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Susan Cusack made her career on the frontlines of social services in the Halifax Regional Municipality, dedicating her life to bettering the community around her and standing up for the downtrodden.
“She gave a voice to people who believed they didn’t have a voice,” said Shonda Johnson, a long-time friend of Cusack’s.
Johnson and Lori MacInnis, both of whom work at the Bryony House shelter for abused women and children, knew Cusack for more than a decade, and spoke to Metro last week about their recently departed friend and former colleague.
“She really was a warrior and a trailblazer for the marginalized and the oppressed,” said MacInnis, “she would help anybody.”
Over the years Cusack worked in many places around the HRM, from Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre and Family SOS in Halifax, to the Dartmouth Family Center and the constituency office for former Dartmouth North MLA Trevor Zinck, among other places.
Her work spanned the spectrum of social services, involving both youth and adults, working in homes, schools and around the community to support and advocate for those in need and helping them access services.
As an example, MacInnis pointed to Susan’s work at the Dartmouth North constituency office.
“She would often be supporting individuals who were of the same group – who were oppressed, marginalized men,” said MacInnis. “Men who had been incarcerated; men who were living with mental illness, perhaps they were active in their addictions, harmfully involved. As such, it was really difficult for them to get housing, or for them to get agencies to support them.”
“It was so easy for them to give up,” added MacInnis, “because so many doors were slammed in their face, so many calls were never returned, people who were supposed to support them never showed up or never cared enough to contact them.”
Cusack would champion their cases, said MacInnis, calling everyone from landlords, to police, to government agency workers, and to even elected officials in order to hold accountable those who were failing to live up to their public duties.
“She reminded them that ‘You might be working for this agency, but you are working for these people and you’re being paid by tax dollars’,” said MacInnis. “‘These people don’t owe you anything. You owe them the respect and integrity and the dignity they deserve, especially in their hour of need.’"
To those trying to access the social services system in the HRM, it can often feel like being lost in a fog, especially for those already marginalized. Cusack, however, was like a guiding light through this fog, so knowledgeable about how the system works, and resourceful in knowing who needed to be contacted, that Johnson described her as “almost like a human 2-1-1.”
A constant frustration of Cusack’s though, was “getting people within the community, agencies and government to understand that what people need is very doable – it's not hard,” said MacInnis. She said she would often hear Cusack say: “Helping people is too simple, it really is.”
Cusack passed away at her home in Bedford on Oct. 7, following a short illness. She was 54-years-old.
“She was an incredible humanitarian,” said MacInnis, “whom I was lucky enough to have as a friend.”