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Category "housing"

26May

Mom creates program for supportive housing tenants after son’s death

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After Christine Harris’s son died slowly and alone in a Vancouver supportive housing unit, she vowed to do everything possible to ensure no other parent would have to share her pain.

She last spoke to her son, Lindsey Longe, on July 12, 2012. The 30-year-old was last seen alive by a friend on July 15, 2012. He died the next day of blood poisoning in his room at Pacific Coast Apartments. The use of illicit drugs contributed to his death, according to a coroner’s report.

Longe’s body wasn’t discovered until three days after he died, after days of Harris calling and pleading with Coast Mental Health staff to check on him, Harris said.

In recent years, Harris, an Alberta social worker, has been developing “Got Your Back For Life,” a volunteer program that pairs people living in supportive housing with a “most-trusted person” who agrees to check on them regularly.

The program is halfway through a one-year pilot at PHS Community Services Society’s Margaret Mitchell Place. About 20 residents of the 52-unit temporary modular housing complex near Olympic Village Station signed an agreement with a trusted person who might be a friend, neighbour, family member or staff member.

Together, they decide how often they’ll do health and wellness checks — it might be every day or once per week — and sign contracts with some personal information and ID photos. The trusted person can then go to building staff at the agreed-upon time, or any time they have a reason to be concerned, and ask them to check on their partner.

Harris said the program came out of discussions with supportive housing residents during an event she holds each summer in her son’s memory. She pitched the cost-free program to PHS in July 2018 and by November the trial was underway.

She praised PHS for already doing 24-hour checks at its supportive housing units but said she hopes the program helps push other housing operators to do better, too.

“(PHS is) doing it to give their tenants an extra layer of protection,” she said. “I think it’s amazing.”

Amid the overdose crisis, B.C. Housing updated contracts with supportive housing sites to require them to conduct health and wellness checks at least every 48 hours, and more frequently when deemed necessary.

But Harris believes 48 hours is inadequate. She keeps an eye on coroner reports, which recently indicated that in Vancouver 48 per cent of the people who died of an illicit-drug overdose since 2017 were in “other residences” such as social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters and hotels.

“I don’t believe that we, as a society, have done enough,” Harris said. “We need to give people the power to look after each other and this community. These people care about each other.”


Lindsey Longe, pictured here with his mother Christine Harris, was 30 when he died in supportive housing in 2012 in Vancouver.

Submitted: Christine Harris /

Vancouver

Margaret Mitchell Place resident Chris Middleton said he has a strong network of friends, family and staff who check on his well-being often, but knowing Got Your Back For Life has a “most-trusted person” regularly checking on him, too, puts his mind at ease.

“I have someone else looking out for me,” he said. “A lot of people don’t. They grow up in these buildings and they have no one that is willing to go ‘Hey, how are you?’”

Middleton believes the program is particularly good for people who might not leave their room too often, such as those who are elderly or disabled.

“It should be status quo,” he said. “Everybody would have their buddy that would check in on how they’re doing.”

The program also helps build community. When it came to Margaret Mitchell Place, it brought people together right away, said building manager Byron Slack.

“A lot of people knew each other in the building but hadn’t really congregated in the common spaces,” he said. “It was one of the first programs we brought into the building and it’s a way of empowering neighbours to be able to check up on their friends.”

Slack said staff check on residents on behalf of their loved ones whether or not they are in the program, but said the contract made between its participants, in honour of Longe, is especially meaningful.

“It’s been a really positive thing,” he said.

The program appealed to PHS because it was peer-driven and came at the height of the “prohibition crisis” behind B.C. overdose deaths, said Duncan Higgon, senior manager of housing.

It works as an overdose intervention tool, he said. For example, if partners score drugs from the same dealer, one might go back to their room, take them and come close to an overdose. With their Got Your Back For Life commitment in mind, they might be compelled to make sure their partner with potent drugs is OK.

Staff have embraced the program and it has the added benefit of engaging tenants in peer-to-peer work, Higgon said. Sometimes, tenants don’t like to ask staff for help, so an arrangement with a peer is more appealing.

“For us, that is very meaningful,” he said. “When we were presented with those opportunities, it was really exciting to trial.”

Higgon said PHS is developing trials at three other PHS modular-housing buildings. But there is potential for it to run at all 1,500 units of PHS housing. He would like to see it used to help homeless people, too.

“I really do see it as a uniquely beautiful, supportive and useful tool across a whole spectrum,” he said.

Harris believes that if just one life is saved by Got Your Back For Life, her program has done what it was designed to do.

“Lindsey, in the last while of his life, when he started hoarding, became very isolated,” she said.

“He was living in shame. To have had something that could have connected him with someone a little more tightly would have helped in many ways.”

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9Mar

No place to go for homeless hospital patients after release: advocate

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The Fraser Health Authority says it is investigating after Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove raised concerns about a 76-year-old woman who was discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and sent by taxi to the Chilliwack Salvation Army shelter, despite mobility and incontinence issues.

On Thursday, the mayor requested a meeting with Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee to discuss “why vulnerable people are being sent to Chilliwack homeless shelters from another community.”

He cited the case of an elderly woman who had no family in Chilliwack, but arrived at the local shelter from the Surrey hospital in early February. Shelter staff were not prepared to care for her medical needs, which included severe incontinence.


Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove has taken issue with a Fraser Health decision to send vulnerable hospital patients to the Chilliwack homeless shelter.

Submitted photo /

PNG

“Constantly cleaning up fecal matter … is a serious concern for both staff and shelter clients,” said Popove in a letter to Lee.

Fraser Health spokesman Dixon Tam said Fraser Health makes “every effort” to find homeless patients a place to go when they are clinically stable and ready to leave the hospital, but “finding suitable housing is a challenge across our region.”

Tam said: “We are committed to continue to work closely with B.C. Housing and our municipal partners to develop more options. At the same time, we need to be careful not to use hospital beds as an alternative to stable housing.”

Abbotsford homeless advocate Jesse Wegenast said he wasn’t surprised to read the Chilliwack mayor’s account in the newspaper, “but only because it’s such a common practice.”

Wegenast’s organization, The 5 and 2 Ministries, opened a winter homeless shelter in Abbotsford on Nov. 1. The next day, he received a call from a Vancouver General Hospital administrator asking if he had space for an 81-year-old patient.

Wegenast said he often says no to accepting patients because the shelter is not open 24 hours and people must leave during the day. He’s had requests to take people with severe mobility issues, as well as those who need help with toileting or washing.

“The people who work at shelters are often very compassionate, and if the hospital says, ‘Well, we’re not keeping them,’ they feel obligated to help,” said Wegenast.


Abbotsford pastor and homeless advocate Jesse Wegenast.

Ward Perrin /

PROVINCE

The pastor said he’s rarely seen people in shelters receive home care or followup care, and it’s also difficult for them to get prescriptions filled.

Wegenast helped a low-income senior on Friday who recently had half of his foot amputated. The man lives in an apartment and was receiving home care to help with dressing changes, but he’d been unable to get antibiotics for five days since being released from hospital.

“When you have people exiting acute care at the hospital and there’s no one to follow that up, it’s bad for that person’s health, and it’s also bad for public health in general,” he said.

Unlike Wegenast, Warren Macintyre was surprised to read about the Chilliwack woman’s situation because it confirmed that the experience he’d had with Fraser Health was not uncommon.

“I really had no idea this kind of thing was going on,” he said.

Three weeks ago, a close family member was admitted to Surrey Memorial after suffering from alcohol withdrawal, said Macintyre. He was placed on life support in the intensive care unit for about 10 days. When he was stable, he planned to enter a treatment program in Abbotsford, but there weren’t any beds available until March 14.

“We were told the plan was to keep him in hospital until then, but I got a call Wednesday telling me he’d been discharged,” said Macintyre.

Surrey Memorial had sent his relative to the treatment centre, where staff repeated they had no space, so he was returned to the hospital. The man, who had been staying at the Maple Ridge Salvation Army before his hospital admission, took a cab to a friend’s house.

His family is hoping he’ll be able to stay sober until he can get into treatment March 14.

“I told the hospital, if he goes back on the booze, he’ll be right back here,” said Macintyre.

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3Mar

City of Vancouver, province open Nora Hendrix Place modular homes

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Albert Briggs plays drums as Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training and MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant; and Kennedy Stewart, Mayor of Vancouver look on at the opening of Norah Hendrix Place.


NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

Nora Hendrix has been described as a remarkable woman who was the glue that connected Vancouver’s early black community.

On Sunday, the provincial government and the City of Vancouver officially opened a temporary modular housing project in Strathcona named after Hendrix, to honour her legacy and that of the black community that was wiped out of the area in the 1960s.

“Ms. Hendrix was a tireless advocate for her community,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson.

The province committed 17 months ago to building 2,000 units of temporary modular housing across the province, with 606 of those units in Vancouver. The provincial government pledged $66 million toward the Vancouver projects.

In Vancouver, 554 provincially-funded modular homes have already been opened on nine sites. Nora Hendrix Place, a three-storey building with 52 units that will be run by the Portland Hotel Society, is the final project to be completed in the city. It’s expected that people will start moving in this week.

“Hundreds of people are living outside with nowhere to sleep, use the washroom or get regular food and water, and this isn’t how you treat your neighbours,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone is included and has a roof over their head.”

Stewart said the modular housing units are a testament to cooperation between multiple levels of government, non-profits and the community, and he looks forward to working on more in the future.

The studio units, built by Horizon North, are about 320 square feet each in size and have a kitchenette, bathroom, and a living/sleeping area. Six homes are wheelchair accessible. The building has an indoor amenity space, commercial kitchen, laundry facilities, administration office and meeting rooms for the staff and residents.

All new modular housing buildings have staff on site 24 hours a day and provide services and supports such as meals, education and work opportunities, healthcare, life skills, social and recreational programs, case planning and needs assessment and help navigating government services.


The new 52-unit modular housing project at 268 Union St. in Vancouver opened Saturday. It honours honours Nora Hendrix, who was a pillar of the early Vancouver black community, which was centred in Strathcona.

NICK PROCAYLO /

PNG

To honour its location in what used to be Hogan’s Alley and the woman it is named after, the housing project will have some services and supports geared specifically to the needs of the black and Indigenous communities, and members of those groups who are experiencing homelessness will be prioritized.

“Let’s call it what it is: This city has a history of anti-black racism, it has history of anti-Indigenous racism,” said Stewart. “It has a long history of racism that we’re addressing through reconciliation but I think today it’s also addressing damage of the past.”

Hendrix came to Vancouver in 1911 and became an important figure in the East End neighbourhood — now Strathcona — and Hogan’s Alley in particular, which at the time was home to Vancouver’s black community.

Hendrix started the Vancouver chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, where people gathered to pray and socialize. She also cooked at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House on Union, which was part of Hogan’s Alley. Her grandson, rock legend Jimi Hendrix, was known to visit the area during his childhood.

Many of the homes and businesses in the community were demolished to make way for the “urban-renewal projects” and the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

“That monument to our oppression … was what displaced our community,” said June Francis, co-chair of the Hogan’s Alley society, gesturing to the Dunsmuir viaduct. “It displaced our hopes, it displaced our dreams, it displaced our businesses.”

The modular housing site will eventually be redeveloped as part of the city’s North East False Creek Plan, which calls for the black community to be honoured and what was formerly Hogan’s Alley to be a focal point. A black cultural centre is a centrepiece to the redevelopment, and the city hopes to employ land trusts and long-term leases to build the community.

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19Feb

What the 2019 B.C. Budget means to you: Six things to know

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Finance Minister Carole James arrives to deliver the budget speech as she waves to people in the gallery at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 19, 2018.


CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The B.C. NDP government’s second budget focused on tax breaks and benefits for people with children, students and businesses, and investments in clean energy and climate initiatives. Here’s a brief summary of how British Columbians will be affected.


CHILD CARE

The budget didn’t make any large strides toward $10-a-day child care beyond continuing funding for the government’s 2018 child care plan into 2021/2022 and increasing it by $9 million a year. The bigger news was the introduction of a B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit to replace the early childhood tax benefit, which currently provides families with up to $660 a year per child under the age of six.

The new benefit, which begins in October 2020, will provide families with one child up to $1,600 a year, with two children up to $2,600 a year and with three children up to $3,400 a year. Instead of ending at six years of age, the benefit will be paid until the child is 18.



Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.

Jason Payne /

PNG

EDUCATION

Good news for British Columbians with student loans — no more interest payments. As of Tuesday, all B.C. student loans will stop accumulating interest, saving someone with $11,700 in provincial student loans $2,300 over the 10-year repayment period. This will cost the government $318 million.

The public education system will get a boost, with $2.7 billion set aside over three years to maintain, replace, renovate or expand facilities. There will also be $550 million invested to hire new teachers and special education assistants, and improve classrooms.


RENTAL HOUSING

Community organizations will be provided with funding to operate rent banks to provide short-term loans with little or no interest to low-income tenants who can’t pay their rent because of a financial crisis. It will cost $10 million and be funded through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

The implementation of a B.C.-wide rent bank system for low-income people was one of 23 recommendations delivered late last year from the Rental Housing Task Force struck by the B.C. government.


The Vancouver skyline.

DARRYL DYCK /

THE CANADIAN PRESS


CLIMATE CHANGE

The climate action tax credit will be increased in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Starting July 1, the maximum credit will go up by 14 per cent for adults and children, meaning low- and middle-income families of four will receive up to $400 for this year.

More than $107 million in operating funding will provide incentives for battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (up to $6,000), incentives for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, incentives for home charging stations, as well as other programs.


HEALTH CARE

Pharmacare program will be expanded with an additional $42 million to cover more drugs, including those for diabetes, asthma and hypertension. An additional $30 million will be invested in tackling the drug overdose crisis, bringing the total investment since 2017 to $608 million. Mental health programs focused on prevention and early intervention for children, youth and young adults will be funded to the tune of $74 million.

As promised previously, Medical Services Plan premiums will be fully eliminated on Jan. 1, 2020, saving families up to $1,800 per year.



Snow covers Oppenheimer Park as homeless people sleep in tents .

NICK PROCAYLO /

PNG

POVERTY REDUCTION

Income and disability assistance rates will be increased by a $50 a month, a total increase of $150 a month (or $1,800 a year) since the 2017 budget update. Before 2017, the rates had not been increased for a decade. This will cost an extra $44 million over three years.

A homelessness plan will invest $76 million in land acquisition and services to build 200 more modular homes, bringing the total to 2,200 units.

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20Sep

Tent-city campers to be barred from Goldstream Provincial Park

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A police command centre has set up at Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford on Vancouver Island as homeless campers forced from green space in Saanich fear they are once again being pushed out.

Organizer Chrissy Brett said the Environment Ministry arrived after 5 p.m. Wednesday night and closed the park to all but registered campers. She said the park will be closed at 11 a.m. today to everyone, just two days after the campers arrived. Police had yet to confirm this Thursday morning.


Homeless campers at Goldstream Provincial Park on Sept. 19.

DARREN STONE, VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST /

PNG

Langford Mayor Stew Young signalled that his community would not put out the welcome mat for homeless campers who moved to Goldstream park on Tuesday evening.

A frustrated Young said he received hundreds of complaints by Wednesday from residents who are concerned about break-ins and drug use.

“The public is absolutely fed up. They know these are not just campers looking for a home. They’re in there stealing. They’re doing drugs. They leave needles everywhere,” said Young. “I can tell you, parents are already telling me their kids will never go in there again because you’ll never find all the needles, all the drugs and all the opioids.”

Young said he was “very disappointed” he didn’t get a call from the provincial government to let him know the campers were moving to the provincial park on the edge of his municipality.

“Housing Minister Selina Robinson was on the news talking about it. But no courtesy call to me saying ‘Guess what? We’re actually paying for them to go to a provincial park.’ If that’s their solution for homelessness, we have a really big problem, a bigger problem than I thought,” said Young.

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The government provides free camping at B.C. Parks to people who receive disability assistance through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. The campers said they are planning to spend the next two weeks in the park to regroup and recuperate.

The government should have been better prepared after a homeless camp on the Victoria courthouse lawn cost taxpayers $3 million in legal fees and site cleanup, said Young. It’s estimated the tent city at Regina Park will cost Saanich taxpayers $1 million.

“The province should have been out in front of this in the first place,” said Young. “They’re not being responsible. Before they started moving people to a provincial park, there should have been some dialogue with police, council, my staff and myself. We got caught.”

Young has met with West Shore RCMP and senior staff to consider what to do to keep the community safe.

“Whoever thought of this is an absolute idiot,” he fumed.

A statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said B.C. Parks staff will monitor the situation at Goldstream Park.

“While we understand this is not an ideal location, it is a safer location than the highway right of way where the campers were living previously.”

The goal is to get people into shelters and long-term housing.

“Solving this will require partnerships with regional and local government leaders to build appropriate and affordable housing. Unfortunately, while we already have 2,000 new modular homes in development across B.C., only one site for 21 units was identified in Victoria, and no other local governments within the CRD have identified land where we could build these homes.”

Young said staff from four ministries — Municipal Affairs and Housing, Mental Health and Addiction, the Attorney General, and Social Development and Poverty Reduction — should form a provincial action assessment team that goes out every day to help marginalized people.

“There’s so much money out there. Get out of your office and go work for these people. I don’t need a thousand people working in an office when the problem is out here, or in Saanich or in Victoria. Help them. Make sure they get the help they need. Find out where their families are,” said Young, who called the situation a crisis.

Putting 100 modular units in the middle of a neighbourhood for five years is stupid, said Young.

“They’re not going to solve the problem long-term. Build proper housing and build it faster and do it all over the province.”

The RCMP will do their job and uphold the law, said Young.

“They will arrest people if they are doing drugs. If anything is going on, they will uphold the law.”

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Dean Fortin, executive director of Pacifica Housing, said outreach workers did more than 100 vulnerability assessments when the campers lived in Regina Park.

“These aren’t a bunch of advocates with social privilege trying to raise a point. The vast majority of individuals who made up the camp were suffering from mental health and addictions. They are already classified by the ministry as people with disabilities. They have many challenges.”

More than 10 people from Regina Park have been placed in supportive housing, said Fortin.

Outreach staff will go to Goldstream, meet with the campers, understand their needs and see if they can help move them into permanent housing.

“It’s not a bad thing to have gone to Goldstream because they’re not under the constant threat of being displaced and made to move on. … The ability to just have two weeks of peace, and for us, as a service provider, that’s two weeks of us working to find a more permanent solution,” said Fortin.

Earlier, at Goldstream Park on Wednesday morning, sunlight streamed through the massive trees. The campers were enjoying their peaceful surroundings.

“It was so quiet last night, I heard an owl hoot,” said Lynne Hibak.

“I heard other people snoring,” said Lance Larsen. “I never heard that at the other camp because there was too much noise and it was drowned out by all the activity. If you have really good hearing, in the dead of night, you can hear the water trickling and the hiss of the waterfall.”

“No window warriors yelling at us,” said Don, who didn’t want his last name in the newspaper.

The campers said they were driven to the park by supporters.

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