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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.

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