Last March, then-MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton gave a new intensive case management team the tough task of finding homes for 40 high-needs people who’d been staying at RainCity Housing’s temporary homeless shelter on Lougheed Highway for 18 months.
The people were former residents of the Cliff Avenue homeless camp and had a range of mental health and addictions challenges and were considered hard to house.
Now, after starting the task in May, the team has had some success.
Of 40 people who had been at the shelter, sleeping an arm’s length from their neighbours, with washrooms located outside in the parking lot, 23 have found their own apartments, said Laura Caron, with RainCity Housing, the agency running the ICM team.
“We’ve managed to house 26 of those folks so far.”
That number includes three partners, which means 23 actual occupants of the temporary homeless shelter have been housed.
And of those, 11 have found jobs.
“We haven’t had any evictions,” Caron added.
The other 17 have either moved to another shelter, are staying with friends, have gone into hospital or into treatment or recovery, or may be back on the street, she explained.
The team doesn’t know how many, if any are in the current tent city, at the foot of 223rd Street.
The intensive case management team is composed of nurses, an indigenous cultural support worker, a peer support worker, an addictions specialist, two outreach workers, nurse practitioner and social worker – who meet once a week with people in their homes.
The team ensures that people are getting the support, counseling or treatment needed in order to keep them off the street and living independently.
Mental health and substance abuse are the main challenges facing the residents, said Caron.
“People are struggling with substances, typically, 100 per cent of the time.”
But everybody has their own story, and there’s no standard profile, and there’s no standard cause and effect, she added.
The ICM team follows the Housing First approach, which maintains that giving people a place to live, of their own choice, first, then giving intensive support to deal with their issues and achieve their goals.
Caron is a firm believer in that approach, after seeing first-hand how finding a place to live helps people.
“It’s incredible how things change,” she said.
“It’s amazing how less complex it becomes once they have a home and a fridge and an alarm clock and a bed and a shower … things become much less complex.”
Being able to sleep, eat and not worry about their own safety allows people to face their other issues.
“It’s incredible how things change once someone has a set of keys, and privacy and security of their home and a place to be.”
Not that it always works.
Some people can be housed and nothing changes, Caron added, and they’ll keep using and not improving.
But for others, having a home is all it takes.
In today’s tight housing market, finding people affordable places to live is an ongoing challenge that makes housing the homeless an even tougher job, when rents are $1,100 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. That task is made easier when landlords step up to help, which they do, Caron notes.
“We’ve had incredible support from landlords. They’re involved and they want to be. Landlords are doing really good work to walk beside these people.”
Caron doesn’t believe in the tough-love approach, that denying help will force people to realize they have to deal with their addiction first before they can get a home.
“There are times when you give someone a set of keys, and their use stops. It’s pretty incredible. Their need to use stops. I do not feel that people who use substances are incapable of being housed. You do not have to stop using substances to move inside four walls and a door.”
Getting identification and a bank account are two big steps, she added.
Coun. Bob Masse said it’s “remarkable” that the team has been able to house 23 people.
“I do think it’s a good thing. It’s not going to solve the problem in Maple Ridge so that we don’t have any people at the camp.”
Masse supports a supportive housing complex and favours one being run by the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.“They should be given strong consideration, let’s put it that way.”
The provincial government later announced a supportive housing on Burnett Street, just north of Lougheed Highway, to be run by the Salvation Army. Maple Ridge council though didn’t learn of that until it was announced by Housing Minister Selina Robinson.
In contrast to the modular housing sought by activists for the Anita Place Tent City, the ICM program follows a “scattered site” approach, where people are housed throughout the community. That allows people to become part of their neighbourhoods and avoid the downtown, which could trigger past behaviours.
But the congregate care model that’s part of modular housing could work for others.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said that those from the temporary shelter who remained unhoused may not be able to live independently and, thus, need supportive housing.
Coun. Gordy Robson said the number of people housed by the team is great.
He added the ICM team could be a key in dismantling Anita Place tent city.
With most of the people from the shelter either housed, out of the community or in treatment or hospital, the team is now starting to take other referrals.
Caron said many people have helped get the intensive case management team operating, such as the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, which helped whenever needed.
“It’s been many hands. For a community that can be tricky at times, it’s been lovely.”