Housing a priority for new team

Case management team to handle 40 shelter occupants in Maple Ridge.

RainCity

RainCity

A team of eight people is going to help 40 homeless clients from the Maple Ridge shelter, housing them, visiting their apartments, connecting them with services they need, and keeping them off the streets.

That’s the goal for the new intensive case management team forming in Maple Ridge. It was announced last month, when the province decided it will close the temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway and move most of the 40 occupants across the street to the Salvation Army shelter.

On Feb. 17, local Liberal MLAs Doug Bing (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) and Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge-Mission) made the announcement, as the province works toward a $15 million purpose-built homeless shelter and supportive complex in the city.

An intensive case management team is a new approach in Maple Ridge, but ones have been in operation in Surrey and Vancouver. More are being recruited around the province, said Andy Libbiter, executive director of mental health and substance use services for Fraser Health.

The team will provide seven-day-a-week support for patients who have moderate to severe substance abuse problems.

The focus is on a housing-first philosophy, explained Libbiter. The province will provide $252,000 for up to 40 rental housing subsidies, and the case management team will help the clients find and keep apartments.

“They really work to get these people in housing, and they stay in with them,” said Libbiter.

The team members don’t live with clients, but they will visit once or twice a day, establish relationships with landlords, connect clients to whatever services they need in the community, and drive them to appointments. They will also offer 24-hour, on-call support.

“The research is clear – if you get stable housing, they can engage them in support and treatment,” said Libbiter.

The term he uses is “wrap-around service,” which refers to an approach where the team members get the client whatever supports they require, that are available in the community – nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, physicians and mental health services are examples.

RainCity Housing, which has operated the temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway in downtown Maple Ridge, will be contracted to manage the city’s case management team, and will recruit employees.

RainCity has faced criticism from Maple Ridge residents who oppose its low-barrier approach.

Libbiter called RainCity “very expert,” and said the job of the team will be engage homeless people, establish trust, and offer them hope.

“RainCity knows this population very well,” said Libbiter. “This is not easy work. The people in the RainCity shelter have multiple challenges.”

Fraser Health and RainCity have operated an case management team in Surrey for three years. The majority of the clients there have secured and maintained housing and accessed services.

RainCity co-executive director Catharine Hume said the new team for Maple Ridge will be assembled over the next few weeks.

It will include four people with clinical expertise, including an addictions specialist, nurse and social worker.

Four support workers will include at least one peer specialist with “lived experience” with addiction or homelessness. There will also be at least one indigenous outreach worker.

The team will have access to dedicated a nurse practitioner and psychiatry time, she said.

Hume added that Surrey’s team, which does not have the clinical capacity that Maple Ridge’s team will have, has achieved strong outcomes in two and a half years, and generally finds 80 to 85 per cent of people can be stabilized in housing, reconnecting to their families and the neighbourhood where they live.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said the team has the potential to make a difference. The city had been asking for an Assertive Community Treatment team, which operates in the much the same way.

However, Read said the lack of services available in the community can be an issue, and there is a need for detox services.

Read added the biggest challenge for the case management team will be getting clients into appropriate housing situations.

“They need access to housing – that remains the critical problem in Maple Ridge right now,” said Read. “Where do you go, right off the street?”

Read has been critical of the provincial government’s response to homelessness, and fears the governing Liberals will make an effort to get homeless people off the streets in the months leading up to the May 9 provincial election.

“They’re going to put them somewhere to get past the election.”

Putting hard-to-house homeless people in typical market housing has led to “serious neighbourhood reactions,” she said.

“That’s not fair to the neighbours or the client.”

Hume agreed that finding affordable housing is an issue, but said the case team should be able to win over landlords.

“Affordable housing is a challenge in every community in the Lower Mainland,” she said. “We will have to identify landlords who are willing to give this a try.”

RainCity’s experience is that landlords appreciate the agency behind their tenant, which is responsive to issues or complaints. Their rent payment is guaranteed.

For the AT Home study in Vancouver, RainCity needed 200 scattered site units, and Hume said she and others were skeptical about finding so many.

“By the end of the project, we were turning landlords away,” said Hume.

“It will take time. There will be bumps and challenges,” she said. “I’m really optimistic.”

According to Libbiter, even if the city is able to secure a purpose-built facility to provide a homeless shelter and other services, and case team would still be an asset.

He said a team can generally support up to 100 people, but at first it will focus on the 40 people in the shelter.