Housing First – YWCA Prince Albert’s Homeward Bound Program
By Nicole Linzmeyer, SARC Communications Officer
In celebration of SARC’s 50th Anniversary, we are highlighting Member Agencies that are approaching client needs in unique ways in order to serve them better. While SARC Members have accomplished some amazing things for Saskatchewan communities over the last fifty years, looking ahead into the next fifty, there are many more achievements to be made!
The YWCA Prince Albert has been making a lot of progress to address homelessness in their community. They have created programming that revolves around client needs and have moved away from the traditional methods of addressing homelessness by using the “housing first” approach.
Dave Hobden, Manager of the Housing First Initiative at YWCA Prince Albert, was hired in late 2014 to provide services for 25 high needs, high risk individuals. While Dave began developing timelines and protocols for the new program that would be ready in the next few months, January started to roll around and the cold winter was setting in. It was hard for Dave to see all the people that needed a home, and he did not want to wait six months until the program was fully developed.
Instead, Dave hired Rob Dunlop as a program supervisor and went to a property owner in the community with some vacant houses. Dave and Rob assured the property owner they would give the house back in as good or better condition than when they got it and that they would check the house at least three times every day. This partnership quickly grew from one house to fifteen houses after just two months as they continued to build strong partnerships with other property owners. Once individuals were in the home, a program was developed around each client’s individual needs, “Whatever they needed to keep them in the home, and make sure they wouldn’t be evicted,” Dave stated. “We started as the gatekeepers for the first few months. It just really started to work; we developed some rapport with other landlords and they started coming to us, saying, ‘We’ve got a house here’. Now we have landlords who are actually purchasing houses saying, ‘If you’re willing to put your clients in there, and support them, we’ll buy another house.’”
At the end of the first year, Dave and his team had noticed some gaps in services that were keeping people homeless, so they continued to develop the program to address those gaps. “We developed everything with the client in mind first,” Dave said. “Instead of going out and making this program and trying to get the clients to fit into it, we found out the needs that are being missed in our community, where the people are that fit into our criteria, and thought about how we can address the concerns that are keeping them homeless.” Dave developed a partnership with Avenue Living to begin renting a 40-unit apartment building at a subsidized rate to meet the requirements of Social Services funding. After gaining this space, the program was able to grow by offering in-house programming as well as having a team of staff regularly providing supports, including 24 hour on-site staff, an in-house nurse, mental health and addictions workers, cultural supports and more.
Their programs have now evolved to address those clients’ needs, including:
- Housing and support for sexually exploited women who are pregnant – The Kindred Spirit Program is funded by the Ministry of Social Services and provides support to women who have had their children apprehended in the past. It provides extra supports so that the women can keep their child as they learn parenting skills and everything necessary to provide that assurance that the first priority is the care of the child and making sure that they are safe.
- Clients with dual diagnosis – A program was developed for clients with mental health problems as well as addictions that provides them with the skills and supports they need. Many of these clients were people who had been in group homes all their lives, and when they timed out of the system at the age of 18 or 21, depending on the situation, they had no place to go. They couldn’t manage in a regular group home because of their addictions, and so they were being turned out onto the street.
- Aging population – The program has designated eight suites to clients that are aging and struggling with addictions. These individuals would normally go into a care home, but because of their addictions issues, they are not able to. Clients are also able to receive supports for other health concerns through this program.
Since identifying these three target client areas, the program has continued to evolve through building and strengthening their existing community partnerships. They have worked with Avenue Living to rent an additional 24-suite apartment building right next door to their existing building, and plan to continue to expand their housing space to better meet the needs of their clients. They have also partnered with the Health Board to provide four dedicated spaces for clients coming out of hospital so that they are able to receive home care and additional supports after leaving the hospital.
They continue to build the program to have a diversified funding stream through a variety of funding bodies, which they can then share the services amongst all clients. “Our funding partners are a key to our success,” said Dave. “It really is helpful to be able to share resources; for example, the Health Board funds our mental health and addictions workers and nurses, but CLSD clients and seniors can all access those supports. Clients that are specific to the Health Board also receive support from our cultural support worker and our night staff. When we’re sharing resources, the money goes so much further.”
While Dave credits much of the program’s success to their various partners and funders, the success really stems from Homeward Bound’s ability to look at approaching the client’s needs differently through the Housing First approach. “For the last 30 years that I’ve been involved in the human services field, the philosophy has always been to work on people’s addictions and other lifestyle concerns first, and then once they’ve had success at that then we will get them into housing. It’s never worked,” Dave said. “When we reverse that, the criteria is not that you have to stop drinking, using drugs, or working the streets, but once you are in the home we provide the supports to address all of those things. The success rate is phenomenal. People are moving into heathy relationships and healthy lifestyles. We’ve had three clients that have come off the streets and are now working for us, just after a couple of years. It’s so encouraging.”
This innovative approach is making a huge impact for people in the Prince Albert community – well done, Homeward Bound and YWCA Prince Albert!