In the year since Coast Mental Health took responsibility for Alouette Heights, the supported housing site has undergone a transformation that at its core is about establishing a sense of security and belonging.
Since last spring, Coast has undertaken initiatives to make both the residents and staff feel safer, such as adding buzzers, cameras, and entrance security. The 46-unit building in Maple Ridge is no longer home to an excess of unauthorized guests, and Coast has tracked a decrease in calls to the RCMP and other emergency services plus an 18% drop in incidents.
The changes to the building can be easy to focus on, and a few tenants pushed back against the perceived loss of freedom. But when you talk to manager Jason Payne, you realize the main thrust of the transformation has come from initiatives that are less obvious at first, but emphasize community building – both within the building among its residents, and between the tenants and the community at large.
Jason started at Alouette Heights in April 2017, and since then has implemented a number of client-focused programs, from a weekly music group to an active group that goes on community outings. The community kitchen encourages tenants to get involved through food prep, menu development, and the purchasing of supplies, and even prompted volunteers to form a gardening club to grow produce for its use.
Jason has been a frontline mental health worker for over a decade. When asked what aspects of his new job are most rewarding, he says, “Everything. I love doing it. I really enjoy the opportunity to take some of my knowledge and experience and transferring that over to staff.”
He says the staff at Alouette Heights, including the outreach team, are a strong, diverse group. The outreach program at Alouette Heights began last September. The team of four outreach workers connects people in the community who live in subsidized housing or who may be at risk of losing housing, with life skills and employment services; organizes regular get-togethers so clients can check in and support one another; and holds workshops on topics such as knowing your rights as a tenant.
What has also helped build connections between staff, tenants, and community clients is the team’s awareness that everyone has much to learn from each other. “We all struggle with trying to get that engagement with clients, and the understanding that we’re here to help and these are the ways we can help,” Jason says.
“For instance, if you have to do music group and you’re not musically inclined, you can sit down with clients and say, ‘Show me how to play.’”
This year, he hopes to get a few of the tenants involved in Coast’s Peer Support Program (see p.10) and continue to develop Alouette Heights’ relationships with its neighbours by meeting regularly with local organizations.
“We really have a lot of great tenants who have a lot to offer.”