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Friday, October 29, 2010

Low Barrier ie. Supportive Social Housing

There is a fairly large bit of information below but I sincerely welcome and will answer any questions regarding what is a very complex issue. The debate rages on in Nanaimo around placing so called Low Barrier or Wet Housing into the Hospital Area. Below you will find every link, from the Daily News, to stories and letters about this particular issue at Dufferin and Boundary Crescents. I am also pasting some commentary with regards to questions asked of me (looks better here because I actually ran spell check).

Correspondence with Jim Taylor – Nanaimo Info Blog
As a voice for social change I am seeking your opinion on the effectiveness of the 'low barrier' housing program which is causing a bit of a stir in the hospital area. Any light you can shed on the matter would be helpful?

As someone who for years has advocated a ‘housing first approach’ and the decentralization of services, even before the concepts became the adopted approach in the city, I have seen firsthand how stable housing can enable people to address barriers that might seem overwhelming without the option of easily accessible supports.

The overwhelming anxiety/fear that is being generated by misinformation put out by HANA and the lack of overall communication on the part of the City has generated a response in the Hospital Area that was easily predicted. As Douglas Hardie so aptly puts it in a recent letter regarding the South End Community Associations opinion on the issue, "Anxiety is remarkably contagious. It's easy to get swept up in an emotional process that tends to simplify and polarize the issues in a way that makes the development of good, long-term solutions less likely."
HANA (Hpospital Area Neighbourhood Association) does however have a legitimate concern when it comes to concentration. As stated in the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) {see attached} signed by BC Housing and the Municipality Nov. 12, 2008, the site proposed for Boundary and Dufferin (Townsite) was put forward as “suitable for tenants with mental health and addiction issues” the proposed site on Bowen Road, not relatively far from the other, “could accommodate commercial or service uses on the ground and residential units above” and “could serve more independent tenants.”

Somewhere along the way the City is stating all will be low barrier and this could cause problems when locating these services. Then again I would contend that every house, apartment and condominium is low barrier. Provided you stay under the radar a person can do pretty much whatever they want in their own home.

In my opinion the City should sell the property on Bowen to a developer for mixed use with a 5 year covenant on the residential for people with an income of less than $20,000 and basing rent on 30% of income. After the 5 years the city could covenant a percentage of the units to stay that way with the rest either being sold or rented at market value. Once the property is sold to a developer the City could then look at purchasing properties in other areas of the city.

Part of the problem in touting these facilities as low barrier is people assume that the units will only be available to those with mental health and addiction issue. The reality is that most of the extreme cases will likely end up housed at Wesely Street it being the first to come on line other than the old Balmoral. The reality is as people move towards treatment and other housing options you would likely see a variety of people being housed in the buildings which could be a good thing.

Do you know if these programs are actually effective in assisting people with many different 'issues' in getting off the streets and into what we may think is a better lifestyle?

Yes. The primary goal of Housing First is to get the person off the street and then look at each individual and taylor supports to their need at that particular time and place in their life. The first step, getting the person(s) off the street or out of the revolving door of substandard accommodation, is immediately creating a better/safer lifestyle.

Are they actually able to get the monkey off people’s backs, or just provide more comfortable surroundings?

I prefer to think of it not as more comfortable, though it is that, but safer surroundings. Getting the proverbial monkey off someone’s back will depend on the willingness of the person to access supports. In some cases the safer more comfortable surroundings may be enough to promote change even without the need to look at things like detox or treatment. For many however these later two options as well as counselling will be necessary and by having the person in safe/comfortable housing they are far easier to bring to bear than if the person is cycling on and off the street.

I sometimes wonder if getting people off the streets, is the issue, then what is lacking with our social assistance programs if they are not allowing folks enough money to afford to live in a safe apartment which must already exist someplace, rather than building another institution and putting everyone together in one place?

Many housing first strategies, Toronto for example rely on both putting people into existing accommodation through out the city and then lining up supports as well as providing new build housing .

When looking at existing accommodation rent subsidies are used to top up from the income assistance rate. I know of nowhere where Income assistance rates alone will provide enough for a single person to find adequate safe accommodation and this is a problem Any housing first strategy must look at all means of getting people into housing and then doing it. Rent subsidies are the quickest way to do so and should be the initial focus then moving on to new builds of various types of social and supported social housing.

Is the issue, that these folks are not candidates for most landlords because of alcohol or drug use and the related behaviour issues which arise as a result?

The vast majority of people with substance abuse issues are able to maintain housing. The related behaviour issues, crime and violence, I am assuming you speak of are, in my belief, exhibited by the minority. As an abuser for over 20 years of pretty much any substance I could get hold of I was never evicted because of my substance use. The few times I was evicted it was for failure to pay rent. Most people using alcohol or drugs are not violent and can do so in a very social manner and without having to resort to crime. Some, being the most entrenched, may have to resort to petty crime to both maintain their habit as well as safe accommodation. That being said there are many that are extremely vulnerable to the predators of society, the bottom feeders such as slumlords and pimps who profit from the misery they help and want to maintain.

My comment online to Darrel Bellart story (link below).

A simple question; How well do you know your neighbours? Physical, Child, and Sexual abuse; Pedophiles, Alcoholics, Drug Addicts and Criminal activity, are all happening within homes in Nanaimo. Perhaps even in the home of your neighbour. Low Barrier, Wet House, the reality is that these terms describe every house, condo and apartment in the city. One can do pretty much anything in their home provided they remain under the radar. The people you see on the street are, for the most part, not there because they want to be but because of the very behaviours that happen behind closed doors. Many do drugs to cope with what has happened to them behind closed doors and many to cope with emotional or mental illness. The bottom line is that the proposed Supportive Social Housing and the people that are housed there will have the same right to maintain their addiction aka. behaviour as anyone else in the city. The biggest difference will be that when they do choose change they will have it far easier to do so because of the supports in place.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Been a while

Been a while since my last post. I was away for a few weeks vacation, in September a very much needed break in a place I am not know. Went up and visited family in Tumbler Ridge and while not a place I would choose to live in it does have its attributes in that there is much in the way of natural beauty to see. Did a fair bit of hiking while there and found that on a whole the vaction was very relaxing.

Since getting back I have jumped in full force with the following two letters being written as well as helping to organize a community Thanksgiving Dinner More than 300people attend free thanksgiving dinner . I find these types of hands on events to be extremely gratifying.

This one almost didn't happen due to some trepedition on the part of some members of the Working Group on Homelessness. Fortunately Myself and a few others were not to be swayed and so within just over a week managed to set everything up. We had huge support from many community members who volunteered in a number of capacities and without whom the event would not have been a success. As I say very gratifying.

Letters: (Both in part to the announcement of low barrier housing that will go in off Townsite Rd. near the Hospital)

This first was in response to a prticulaily nasty letter to the editor published on the 7th, link below. The other problem, than the shere maliciousness, was that it is full of misinformation.
October 8, 2010

Re; Fight against low-barrier housing isn't over

Many people will read Susan Knight’s letter to the editor and immediately offer harsh judgment on her apparently unwavering attitude expressed towards those with addiction in our community. My first reaction was such.

As I thought about it further, putting aside the misinformation and fear mongering while looking at it objectively, I can see that this is someone who actually believes very strongly in her community. What is truly unfortunate is that her passion and opinion are articulated in such a malicious way.

This is a person that seems so stuck in her beliefs that at first one could surmise there would be no hope for change. Upon further reflection what I really feel for her is compassion, the same compassion I feel for those stuck in addiction.

When it comes to the issues of homelessness, addiction, prostitution and housing, all sides need to be objective and considerate of each other’s concerns.

I am reminded of a couple old ethics of reciprocity; ‘Judge not lest ye be judged,’ and ‘treat others as you would like to be treated.’

This one I wrote because I fully expect NIMBY to be harped on and also in that I believe the city needs to respond to the areas concerns ASAP.
September 28, 2010

Re: Neighbours don't want low cost housing nearby Sept 14, Rich end of Nanaimo has its share of problems Sept 20, and, Services should be in all areas Sept 22.

Sooner or later the dreaded term NIMBY will rear its ugly head when associated with these three recent stories. I have mentioned before that I believe those that are true NIMBY’s are in the minority and much like those they often accuse of abusing the social system occupy an extremely small niche when it comes to categorizing human behaviour. So far, except for some nasty comments on the internet versions, I believe the letters and other comments show a true concern for this community.

As an advocate for social change and the overall decentralization of services to avoid concentration and ghettoization of any area it behooves the City to enter into open discussion with the neighbourhood. It is a fact that poverty and addiction are not limited to any one area of the City and as such services should be interspersed throughout the greater community.

Low barrier housing is definitely one of these services. A number of properties are proposed for supportive housing throughout the City, a wise decision that took years for the City to buy into. If this form of housing is managed well, kept to a reasonable size and has adequate staffing, it can fit in. Often the result is, those receiving help become some of the strongest proponents for the neighbourhoods they are in.