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From homeless to housed in under a month

One Kelowna man has gone from sleeping on a doorstep to having a place of his own in four weeks thanks to a new homelessness plan.

He is the first success story of CMHA Kelowna’s Housing First initiative, which started in April and moved forward in June when Housing First founder, New Yorker Sam Tsemberis, visited CMHA staff to put on a training session.

CMHA’s Mike Gawliuk said they soon decided on their first Housing First recipient, a man who had been sleeping in a gazebo outside the CMHA office at 504 Sutherland Ave.

"Our staff was out there each morning and engaging with this individual, talking about how they could support him and ultimately what those services look like,” Gawliuk said.

Between now and the end of March 2017, CMHA staff want to house another 10 chronically homeless people, minimum. They plan on taking more homeless people onto their case load and are looking to add a second staff person by Sept. 1.

The Housing First program states that the individual must pay no more than 30 per cent of their income in housing.

“That individual absolutely has to contribute based on what their income is,” Gawliuk explained. “We have the ability to subsidize to make sure that they can get into their own place.”

Gawliuk said the man they chose was happy to have a roof over his head, although it is a huge adjustment for people who have been on the street for years.

"You get used to what it means to survive on the streets. You get used to all the things that come with that. There is a significant adjustment process when they go from surviving on the streets to being housed again.”

Finding housing for those in need isn’t always a walk in the park, especially in Kelowna with high rents and low vacancy.

"It's a barrier, especially for individuals who have been chronically homeless, but it's not impossible."

CMHA has scattered site housing units it leases with landlords in Kelowna and has a housing locator on staff. If the landlord has any concerns CMHA makes sure they are addressed, like a "safety net."

Now that the first man has been housed, they’ll be focusing on the issues that led him to homelessness in the first place.

"The work only really starts when someone is housed,” said Gawliuk.

Each case manager has a small caseload to provide intensive supports for the individual and help them work towards maintaining their housing.

The tenant must agree to meet with a caseworker on a weekly basis in their homes, and the support provided by them looks different for each individual.

"In some cases, individuals may require support with mental health and substance use issues. For others, it may involve access to health care. For others, it might mean learning life skills within the home,” continued Gawliuk. "That individualized service plan takes into account all the needs an individual may have that resulted in their homelessness in the first place and working with them to help build those connections, those resources and those skills to not only maintain housing but work on recovery for many of those issues that they may experience.”

CMHA is currently looking for bachelor and one-bedroom units available in Kelowna for their Housing First initiative. If you or someone you know has a suite available you can contact CMHA directly.

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