Tamara Gorin (left)

Alouette Home Starts wants to join housing debate

B.C. Housing has promised $15 million to build new supportive housing complex in Maple Ridge.

The debate drags on about the homeless and what happens to those still in the temporary shelter after the province cancelled the Quality Inn as their new home.

B.C. Housing followed that decision with a promise of $15 million to build a new supportive housing complex in Maple Ridge.

But no one has asked the Alouette Home Start Society.

“If you want to learn about supportive housing in Maple Ridge, we’re the ones who’ve been doing it. We’ve been doing it successfully. Come and talk to us,” said Marika Sandrelli, president of the board of directors for the society.

“We’re the only agency in Maple Ridge that has this mandate. The city inherited this.”

Alouette Home Start Society’s flagship operation is the Alouette Heights supportive housing complex, which is being questioned by Coun. Gordy Robson.

He is to introduce a motion to council next week, asking for a report on Alouette Heights, the 45-unit supportive housing unit operated by Alouette Home Start since it opened in 2012.

Robson said when it opened, people were only supposed to stay there for a year to 18 months before finding market housing, and that the complex was supposed to be transitional housing.

Sandrelli, though, says the 45-studio suite Alouette Heights on Brown Avenue and 222nd Street is working as it should – stabilizing people and finding them permanent places to live.

It just takes time.

Since it opened, Alouette Heights has moved 74 people into permanent housing.

However, 16 of the 45 people currently at Alouette Heights, almost a third, have been there since the first year.

“We will not evict anyone to the street. We never have and we never will,” said Sandrelli.

“We work really hard to ensure that when they move from supportive housing, they go into housing where they have a really good chance of maintaining that housing.”

Sandrelli said since Alouette Heights opened, it’s been covered by the Residential Tenancy Act and isn’t considered a shelter.

“We don’t contribute as the revolving door, like transitional housing, where people are in and out.”

Alouette Heights, from the beginning, has been governed by the Tenancy Act, which means people living there are tenants with the same rights as any other, which makes it good preparation for going into market housing.

Tenants pay either the shelter portion of their income assistance cheques or 30 per cent of the monthly salaries in rent.

“They’re the same citizens with the same rights as any other tenant in the city,” she said.

All of the residents are formerly homeless, Sandrelli says.

“Everyone at the Heights now has very complex needs – severe cognitive, mental health, trauma.”

Family and financial needs also figure in. Some people are chronically sick, Sandrelli said.

Alouette Heights has a philosophy of harm reduction. There are tenants meetings, continual support and assurance that all agencies can access residents.

“We’ve never had any incidents there.”

If people do use drugs, “what are we going to do, we’re going to kick people back on to the streets because they’re using drugs to deal with their trauma?”

Instead, Alouette Heights will ramp up help for people to work with their addictions.

Thousands of people use drugs in their own homes, she points out.

“We have such a good track record of supporting people along the continuum into permanent housing,” she said.

“It’s difficult work. There are no guarantees.”

Sandrelli said Maple Ridge needs more supportive housing to give people time to address the other issues they’re facing, in addition to homelessness.

“It isn’t just about giving people homes. It’s about supporting people.”

People have to have a choice in choosing their housing, and their supports, she added.

“It involves really understanding the experiences of people who are homeless.”

She discounts the treatment-first model that many would impose as the quick solution.

Most of the homeless have been in treatment, she said.

“Treatment isn’t a magic bullet.”

Addiction is not like a virus that you can treat, she says. It’s a bio-psycho-social coping mechanism.

If a recovery approach is taken – “people will have a better chance of regaining their wellness and being accepted in the community.”

That means it’s not just about stopping drug use, but recovering from trauma or other illnesses.

One new resident at Alouette Heights has rarely lived indoors.

“It’s taken him months to even say hello to the staff. But we’ve stuck with him.” It’s not about whether he’s using, she said.

“They’re our citizens.”

Sandrelli wants to be involved in the talk over a new permanent supportive housing complex for Maple Ridge, for which B.C. Housing has promised $15 million.

She says the operator for that should be determined by a request for proposals.

“We want to be part of the conversation. We have a lot of insight into housing in Maple Ridge over the 12 years plus that we’ve [helped] the homeless. We have a huge following and they’re asking the same question.”

Mayor Nicole Read, though, doesn’t know how B.C. Housing will make its decision, although the 3030 Gordon supportive housing complex contract in Coquitlam was awarded to Rain City Housing following a bidding process.

Read said that just because an agency is local doesn’t mean it can meet the needs of supportive housing.

“It doesn’t work like that. We need to look at who the population is, that is in need.”

B.C. Housing has to look at what service provider will connect the people best to what they need.

“Some times we have to look a new partners and new ideas and bring them in,” Read said.

“It’s actually the needs of the people that are going to dictate who that service provider will be for B.C. Housing. What’s the best value for the taxpayer.”

Sandrelli also said the announcement last April that the city allocated $160,000 to pay for four street outreach workers, two at Alouette Addictions Services and two from Canadian Mental Health Association, came as a surprise.

“There wasn’t a lot of communication. It just seems things were struck and, before we know it, there were outreach workers on the street.”

Read said those agencies were chosen because experts in drug use and mental health were needed.

“We had an urgent situation on the street. We had to get people on the ground,” Read said.

“We made the decisions we made to get the people on the ground very quickly and I think we made the right decision with Alouette Addiction Services and Canadian Mental Health. I really do.

“We had people on the ground, under central coordination, and it worked.”

Council was also concerned earlier that people were not moving out of Alouette Heights fast enough. Read said that a year ago, about 50 per cent of the people had been living there longer than two years.

Recently, B.C. Housing has provided more rental supplements so that more people could move out of Alouette Heights and into their own place.

Sandrelli says living on the street, without a place to call your own, is not easy.

Thirty nine is the average life span, she says.

The homeless have a 40-per-cent greater chance of suicide.

“Now, that should shock everyone. Because they give up,” she says.

Every time the homeless issue becomes particularly controversial, those on the streets, or perceived to be on the streets, have to be careful because there will be a spike in verbal or physical attacks, Sandrelli said.

During the time of the protests over the Quality Inn as a possible use for supportive housing, “we were on red alert to go out make sure the people who were visibly homeless weren’t going to be attacked.”

People throw things at them or give death threats, Sandrelli added.

On the other hand, Tamara Gorin, supportive housing coordinator at Alouette Heights, said a neighbourhood advisory committee, formed to deal with any issues when the building opened four years ago, rarely meets.

Neighbours don’t seem to have concerns, she said.

The committee meets to deal with other issues in the neighbourhood, though.

People regularly donate starting kits of household items to the people moving in. And every month, in the week before income assistance cheques are issued, an anonymous donor delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to Alouette Heights.

“People are very generous and want to support people who have been homeless in Maple Ridge,” said Gorin.


By the numbers

According to a report filed by the Alouette Home Start Society in January to the City of Maple Ridge:

• between August 2015 and January 2016, six people moved out of Alouette Heights into other housing;

• between August 2015 and January 2016, six people moved into Alouette Heights from the Cliff Avenue camp or the temporary shelter (which opened in October);

• a total of 20 people have been helped in that same time period, although the report doesn’t explain how.

The above stats were the only Alouette Heights figures supplied in the report, which also covered Home Start Society’s other programs, such as its homeless prevention program and its homeless outreach program.

From Alouette Home Start:

• about 48 per cent of the people who stay at Alouette Heights move on to find a permanent home within two years, “and no evictions”;

• about 25 per cent of the population at Alouette Heights cycles in and out every year;

• currently, 11 residents there now came from the Cliff Avenue camp or the temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway;

• in all, a total of 90 people have stayed at Alouette Heights in four years.






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