The Kelowna branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is working toward making changes to Heath House to aid in its integration to the community since its opening in January.
Located on Highway 97, Heath House offers 40-units to individuals experiencing, or who may be at risk of homelessness. Although, like any new development, this hasn’t come without its challenges.
Neighbouring residents in the Rutland community have complained about increased crime, garbage and exposure to drugs and alcohol consumption in public since the opening of Heath House.
“Part of the efforts we’re taking at Heath House,” said director of service delivery and program innovation Mike Gawliuk, “We’ve made some amendments to the tenancy program.”
All tenants of Heath House and any other Kelowna CMHA housing project are to sign a detailed tenant’s agreement that outlines expected behaviour, the rules of the house and the good neighbour policy.
“The program is quite expansive,” Gawliuk said. “It outlines what’s expected there, and we modify it based on our experience monitoring the residents.” He noted the amendments to Heath House’s agreement came into place about a month and a half ago.
But, if residents fail to comply with the agreement, other arrangements will be made for that individual. CMHA said since Heath House’s opening, 10 residents have been “evicted” from the home.
“The reality is, ideally, we want to support people who have successful tenancies,” he said.
Individuals who do not succeed in one home may be moved into another CMHA-operated project in the community, or the organization works closely with other community partners to find more suitable living options.
In efforts to tackle litter, CMHA has a team working to clean up the streets surrounding Heath House and have extended their work into the neighbouring streets. Extra security has also been added to monitor the house, especially during the evening hours. And soon, security personnel will be hired to patrol the neighbourhood as well.
“We recognize we’re taking action towards the things we can control,” communications director Jessica Samuels said. “We recognize the people of Rutland believe the community is not as safe as it used to be.”
Outreach members of CMHA are joining RCMP on ride alongs to interact with individuals in encampments in the surrounding area to ensure they have access to services, she said.
“We want the entire neighbourhood to be safe, not just the surrounding streets around the facility,” Samuels added.
The CMHA representatives said the transition from the street or shelter to a home is a challenging one for many individuals, but once they are settled, the behaviour tends to change.
“People are making the move from a shelter to housing,” Gawliuk said. “And that may be the first time that they lived with a roof over their head for a number of years. We have seen individuals who have been in one setting and we move them to other settings and once they stabilize and get their feet under them, there is a huge improvement.”
CMHA has been operating housing in Kelowna for two decades and it has more than 200 housing units in the community.
“One of the things we try to let people know is with our experience, we’re not trying to say things will go 100 per cent perfect,” Samuels said. “But we’ll make it right.”
CMHA maintains open lines of communication with the public. In regards to the newest housing project slated for McCurdy Road, Samuels said the organization has been in contact with school districts, BC Housing, Knights of Columbus, residents of Rutland, city officials and the public.
Willowbridge Supporting Housing and Rosemead Apartments opened in 2010 and nine years later, Samuels said CMHA still has those direct lines of communication open.
“We’re there to deal with issues as they arise,” she said.
“We want people to have a good understanding of who needs our help,” she said, noting homelessness is experienced for a variety of reasons. It isn’t limited to single issues such as addictions or mental health.
“It’s supportive housing,” Gawliuk said. “We’re going to work with people where they’re at and help them move forward in life.”