By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in the Glebe Report, April 2021)
With the construction of the John Howard Society (JHS) supportive housing development now into its fourth month, the JHS has started to more actively prepare to operate in the community by hiring the residential coordinator – Joshua Bridges. His role is to oversee both community engagement and the development of programs for residents of the facility. (The education and training programs for non-tenants will have their own managers assigned.) Joshua is already taking his role of community engagement seriously. One of his first tasks will be to set up a virtual meeting for immediate neighbours of the development to answer questions on the construction process, which has been underway since just before last Christmas.
Fortunately, the most painful part of the build for neighbours is now complete. The excavation phase, two months of bone-shaking hammering, was extended slightly after the project team ran into deep layers of rock that were much harder than expected. Fortunately, the construction team brought in another backhoe to expedite the process, given that the JHS is aware how difficult the process was for immediate neighbours, particularly as the excavation coincided with the Provincial Stay-at-Home order. On completion of excavation, the project took a nearly month-long hiatus to obtain the remaining outstanding permits before starting construction back up in mid-March. As a result of the delay, construction is now expected to wrap up in March 2022 instead of by the end of this year.
When it comes to the site’s tenants, Joshua indicates that he will be working with the city’s Housing Branch to identify men and women that would be a good fit for the program. These are people who have a level of stability and responsibility that would enable them to live in their own self-contained apartment units with moderate levels of on-site support. Residents are expected to be those deemed ‘chronically homeless’, a term used to describe people 18 years or older, who have been living without stable accommodation for at least six months. Once clients are referred, case managers from the building meet with the clients/prospective tenants to ensure their needs match the services and support available at the residence. After this process, if the team feels as though the client would be a good fit, there is usually a building tour, and then a lease is signed.
As for the community engagement part of his job, Joshua comes with the experience he gained running a JHS Enhanced Supportive Housing Program in Hintonburg, which provides housing and support services to those living with complex mental health and addictions issues. This program is a challenging one, giving Joshua some hard-won experience in dealing with sensitive situations that required tact and strong communications skills to manage community relationships. Joshua notes that while the 289 Carling project is aimed at a different client group, he has, “learned a great deal over the last three years from the tenants, our partners, the staff, and the neighbours of this program, and will bring many of those lessons with me to this project.”
For instance, to help foster the relationship between the facility and the neighbourhood, in Hintonburg the JHS holds community meetings every month or two to share updates with neighbours, and to allow community members to voice concerns or give feedback. The JHS also looks for opportunities for tenants to take part in community functions, such as neighbourhood clean-ups or open houses organized and facilitated by the tenants. In addition, the JHS uses community supports, such as the Parkdale Food Centre or Somerset West Community Health Centre, to build local support networks for their clients. Joshua would also be happy to see community volunteers to help bring people together. In Hintonburg, volunteer supports range from gardening, to serving meals, to running yoga classes, to bringing in animals to interact with residents, and more.
Regarding the 289 Carling site, Joshua intends to be in close contact with immediate neighbours and interested members of the community to keep them informed, both during the construction process as well during the site’s operation. Reinforced by his previous experience, Joshua understands the importance of open and consistent communication between the coordinator and the community, and how a sense of connectedness and community are crucial, for both the tenants and the neighbourhood. Joshua’s goal is fairly straightforward – “for John Howard Society residents and staff to be positive and contributing members of the neighbourhood and wider community.”