Wonderfully Messy: The State of Our Housing Programs Today

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House of Friendship's Awesome Wall

Deb poses with the part of the Awesome Wall that she helped create.  A public art feature that symbolizes a part of the new energy bubbling up in the Supportive Housing Program at House of Friendship

“Supportive housing combines bricks-and-mortar with special supports to meet the physical and mental health needs of tenants.” (Source here) Ensuring that residents have Housing First, and then also a comprehensive range of supports, supportive housing proposes to be more empowering, more likely to help people live happy, healthy and meaningful lives than shelters or other short term housing approaches.

Building bridges and supporting communities

But what does this look like in practice? A quick glance at downtown Kitchener shows how delightfully messy the process can be!

House of Friendship has created a unique space in downtown Kitchener. They have a series of adjoining properties on Charles Street and Eby Street in downtown Kitchener. Eby Village, Charles Village, the Men’s Hostel and Cramer House all serve a diverse set of needs and now, there is something happening here that ignores the walls and gates in between these House of Friendship buildings.

Residents from Eby Village show up at Cramer House to play pool with some new friends. A few men from the hostel plant flowers for the neighborhood on Eby Street that a few Supportive Housing tenants will hand out to bridge the gap between Supportive Housing and the greater community. Catherine the Community Garden Worker works with tenants to create green spaces around the buildings. “I think that community gardens and green spaces bring so much to all of those around them: connection, hard work, fresh air, the pleasure of green, vibrant spaces and the magic of watching something transform right in front of you. It is exciting to help to cultivate these spaces with all of the buildings and slowly watch them grow.”

A housing worker can start her or his day at Eby Village, head over to the Hostel to brainstorm with staff there, have lunch with a few of the gentlemen at Cramer House and then host an Open Mic Night in the community.

A few members of a local faith based group join random tenants and a few former residents of the Hostel and Supportive Housing in a hike one afternoon as they all share a passion for the outdoors. Health and Wellness Workers facilitate access to health services as required. Jindi describes his role as “walking along side others during their own personal journey and offering support through validation, empowerment, empathy and emotional regulation.” Group Skills/Education Workers facilitate the development of group-based life skills and further education. In Daryl’s words, “I’ve really enjoyed the new opportunities for bringing the tenants of Cramer House, Charles Village and Eby Village to work, learn and play together. It’s been awesome to see new friendships develop and grow. I’m really looking forward to the coming years to see where the changes we recently made might take Supportive Housing.”

New ideas

There is a sense of innovation and creativity in the air as we shift our thinking about how to ‘do’ Supportive Housing. There was a time not long ago where staff worked exclusively at one site and generally served the tenants of that building alone. Residents also tended to connect exclusively with residents and staff from their building. Brandon is a Community Connections and Follow-Out Worker. He helps tenants discover and share their strengths and passions, because, as he puts it, “discovering meaningful ways to use our gifts and passions can be one of the most important steps in living a life of joy and purpose.”

Sometimes it’s challenging and other times it’s frustrating, but something great is sprouting up and we feel lucky to be part of it in some small way.

We are moving together, residents and staff alike, towards viewing ourselves as part of a wider community, rather than by the building we are in. We are committed to seeing residents build their own capacity, help one another, work alongside us in discovering answers, and have the knowledge and encouragement to pursue their own health goals. Individual Life Skills Workers like Janine assist tenants in developing daily life skills. As she puts it, “I’ve really enjoyed growing with people as we push ourselves to thrive in a context of change and expanding community.”

Many gifts, many challenges

It is not enough to simply meet needs of residents, leaving small groups of incredible, capable and intelligent people more dependent on staff. There is so much more potential and passion and capabilities in our residents. Staff and residents have spent time dreaming about what this whole thing could be… creating space for completely new staff roles and opportunities to be born. Nicole describes her role as a Community Life Worker as “creating a place, [together], where we can find belonging in times of chaos and of peace.” She supports the development of an inclusive tenant community and supports tenants’ involvement in the broader community.

The Supportive Housing Staff now float between the three buildings and the wider community in whatever way works best for residents. We each have no set desk or office, but rather keep most of the days’ supplies in backpacks as we work together. The old ways of trying to do everything alone and separate from the wider community are disappearing, instead being replaced by an increased humility that we must work together to create anything worth doing.

And so things remain wonderfully messy here…

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