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Safe, affordable, and inclusive: A blueprint for community-centered housing in Regina

NATIONAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING CORPORATION
FEBRUARY 28, 2024

Creative Options Regina has helped the people they support to find housing for some years now, developing one-on-one relationships with landlords who offer discounts, and they’ve partnered with a group of 10 families who invested in building a condo building for their children that provides supportive living.

“We’re always looking for partnerships, especially ones that are safe and affordable,” says Jessica Fraser, Supportive Living Coordinator at COR. “But that can be tricky — if it’s affordable, it might not be in a safe location. The folks we serve are considered vulnerable.”

COR is a charitable organization that develops personalized support services for people experiencing disability. The organization supports people living in their own homes and helps individuals discover their talents and interests so they can live according to their values and reach their personal goals.

As of publishing their 2023 annual report, they had 30 people living in supported living and 58 people receiving home support. However, Fraser said their numbers and the need for safe and affordable housing have grown since then.

COR first connected with the National Affordable Housing Corporation while working with Inclusion Saskatchewan to help someone living in Regina find housing in Saskatoon. NAHC has been working with Inclusion Sask since 2020 to house people with intellectual disabilities.

So when NAHC had plans to build more townhouse rentals in Regina, connecting with COR again was a natural fit.

Fraser says the partnership with NAHC is unique because the rent is so affordable, and the buildings are brand new in an up-and-coming neighbourhood in the city.

“People are paying affordable rent that aligns with their SAID benefits, so that in itself is a success,” Fraser said.

Community-based

Fraser says the NAHC is a good fit for a partnership because it is “person-centred,” looking at the needs of the individual and asking how to make the community fit the person rather than how to make the person fit into the community.

“They’re really community-based,” Fraser said. “The renters aren’t segregated from the rest of the market rent folks; they get to be part of the community.”

Adina Wilson is the Director of Tenant Inclusion & Support at the NAHC and Real Life Rentals and agrees that creating a sense of community for program participants is critical to its success.

“They’re living in a regular community where they’re accepted, valued and seen as regular neighbours, just like other people in the complex,” Wilson said. “That helps them build self-esteem and helps them feel valued and empowered.”

She also says the program hasn’t only benefited the individuals living there, it has also benefited the community.

“Successful programs like this demonstrate creative inclusivity that encourages understanding, develops better empathy and celebrates the positive contributions all can make; we’ve broken some of the stigmas down with our inclusive housing model,” Wilson said.

“It’s been nice to see community members in the different complexes treating everyone with so much kindness and acceptance.”

Neighbours have asked program participants to pet sit, or water plants and check a neighbour’s unit when they’re away.

“Those are huge things,” Wilson said. “When you have a community that you belong to and feel valued in, it’s really important. … It’s neat to watch that develop naturally and organically because we all need community and human connection.”

It’s also handy for multiple people from the COR community to be living in the same development  — several people COR supported who previously had never met took the opportunity to get to know each other when they moved in.

Building trust

Building solid relationships is vital when supporting vulnerable individuals with complex needs; many have stories of facing barriers or discrimination when it comes to finding housing.

“If they can learn to trust the people around them, it will create better opportunities and chances for success,” Wilson said. “When obstacles and challenges arise, they’ll be more forthcoming about letting us know.”

Wilson has regular communication with the tenants and Fraser at COR. Since Wilson works out of Saskatoon, she especially appreciates having COR staff on the ground with the tenants in Regina.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this in Regina without COR right there,” she said. “When you have a solid partner willing to work cooperatively, it’s very valuable.”

COR and NAHC work together if any issues arise, and Fraser with COR says she feels confident that if there’s a problem, they can figure out a solution together.

“We want this to work, and we want everyone to be successful in their housing,” Fraser said. “We want to say, this person is experiencing a challenge — how can we assist them?”

In one case, two roommates asked for assistance cleaning and organizing their home. The NAHC found a professional organizer to work with them for a few months and provide coaching to develop new cleaning habits and practical skills. After the work was complete, the tenants said they experienced a sense of accomplishment and commented that the help made their home environment more comfortable and enjoyable.

“Partnerships are really about people being able to collaborate and share their ideas and being heard,” Fraser said.

There are currently four units with eight COR clients living in them, and more units for COR will be available with the completion of Hawkstone Estates in late summer or early fall 2024.

“I would love to have more folks living in these homes,” Fraser said. “I would love for all the folks I support to have affordable housing as they expand in Regina.”

This Affordable & Supportive Independent Living- Sector Transformation Model for Individuals with Mental Health Challenges project received funding from the Community Housing Transformation Centre (the Centre); however, the views expressed are the author’s personal views, and the Centre accepts no responsibility for them.

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Gentle Teaching Stories: “I’ve spent time learning who my supports are and how they feel supported.”

As a brand-new team leader two years ago, I naïvely believed that I had a great enough understanding of Gentle Teaching. That I had reached some level of understanding that wouldn’t transform any further. I was incredibly wrong in that belief and having the past two years to learn about myself and lead my team, I see how vital Gentle Teaching is to a team culture.

I reflect often on power struggles and ego in regard to supporting and across team dynamics. I’ve been in situations that were unpleasant, where others were intentionally hurtful toward me, or toward others on the team. And it took me a long time to identify that these supports needed nurturing. When I began, it was very easy for my ego to step into the drivers seat, and for me to engage in power struggles over issues with my supports. I had a pretty good understanding of COR at the time, and a pretty good ability to read other people which equated to me being willing to go to the mat over a lot of truly miniscule things (hindsight is 20/20). However, I see how that wasn’t helpful. And now, when similar circumstances occur, I can find the space in myself to step back and view the issue from a greater perspective. I have learned to respond to people’s words, not tone. I have learned to seek deeper meaning in the concerns that are brought up. I have learned the importance of having difficult conversations.

I trust the people who are honest with me, about me, the most. And I foster that trust on my team through having that same expectation of myself, for them. I recognize people’s accomplishments – I thank people who have gone through difficult situations. I work hard on encouraging the team to celebrate each other, to find connection in each other, especially during and after tough moments. I work hard to set a good example – always using kind words, not engaging in negative speech about others and coming to the home with all my personal stuff checked at the door. I’ve spent time learning who my supports are and how they feel supported. I recognize that I have a lot more experience to learn and gain. Yet every interaction I have with my team, I can feel a practiced compassion come into how I greet them, what questions I ask and how I seek connection for them. My goal is to be a leader that no one is afraid of coming to, no one is afraid of getting in trouble, and knows that support will be there when needed. And I believe I have achieved this (at least, mostly) by going through my own self-growth and reflection and understanding how I can change the course of an interaction with a team member through my responses the same way I can change the course of an interaction through my positivity with the people I support.

Kassie, COR Family

Gentle Teaching Stories: “Sometimes all it takes is one positive experience to leave someone feeling safe and loved.”

I still vividly remember learning about a culture of gentleness as a young Support Worker nearly eight years ago. I remember the “lightbulb” moment that I had learning about Gentle Teaching and how I was immediately drawn to this incredible organization that treated people in a way that aligned with my values and beliefs.

Before getting hired at Creative Options Regina, I had worked for another program that supported teenagers with intellectual/developmental disabilities. I chose to leave that job because the way people were treated and looked at by those in positions of power didn’t sit right with me. I was asked to do things within that role that left me with a pit in my stomach. As someone so new to the field, I didn’t have anything to compare my experiences to, and I wondered if this is just how it goes in the disability sector.

That all changed when I began my journey at COR and realized that how I had been feeling was valid and for good reason. Treating people with kindness and dignity IS a part of this sector of work, and I had finally found a place where I felt at home. Over the past eight years at COR, I have been able to nurture a culture of gentleness not only with those I was supporting, but also within myself. A culture of gentleness isn’t just something you forget about after a support time. A culture of gentleness is something that becomes a part of you, if you let it.

I have been privileged to have been in several different roles during my time at COR, all of which have taught me different aspects of Gentle Teaching within different settings. During my time as a Direct Support Worker, Gentle Teaching meant ensuring that those I was serving felt safe around me, built trust with me, and knew I was there to support them first and foremost. As a support, I worked very hard at leaving my personal feelings, my stressors, and my struggles within my personal life at the door. I remember Jim talking about this in a training very early on and this stuck with me. As soon as I stepped into the house of the person I was serving, I was a guest in their home. I wasn’t there to only support THEM, they were not there to support me. I chose this job, and they have welcomed me into their home so it was important to enter into it with a positive attitude and open mind.

As I worked my way into the Aspiring Team Leader role and the Team Leader role, I was able to encourage and support my teammates to also work on this same mindset when entering people’s homes. How would it feel if someone came into your home and was grumpy, distracted, or upset? Would that make you feel safe? Would that be something you’d want to engage in? Would that make you feel loved? Likely not.

When I transitioned into the role of Literacy Facilitator, I remember wondering if Gentle Teaching might look a little bit different. I remember feeling worried that I might not get to spend as much time with those we supported, and wouldn’t have as much success nurturing this gentle culture I had worked so hard at in my previous roles. The truth is, it doesn’t always matter how much time you spend with someone. Sometimes all it takes is one positive experience to leave someone feeling safe and loved.

Kristyn, COR Family

Gentle Teaching Stories: “I strongly believe that Gentle Teaching can impact the likely hood of an individual re-offending if human justice professionals practice it in all levels of occupations within the justice system”

Gentle Teaching Stories: “Realizing that every day is a new day and that there are always new experiences to be had, allows for suspense and a chance for growth – not just for whomever I am with, but for myself as well.”

Gentle Teaching Stories: “Gentle Teaching taught me that things don’t always have to be punishments and rewards”

Gentle Teaching Stories: “Gentle Teaching provides an environment that allows everyone to be themselves.”