Tenant Services Program at 40 Oaks – the affordable housing project of the Toronto Christian Resource Centre (CRC)
By Mary Middleton, Tenant Services Coordinator
I have been a social worker for twenty years. In that time I have worked primarily as a counsellor and support worker for people with mental health issues. I have plied my trade in clinics, shelters and drop-ins with the ultimate goal being to support my service users in their attempt to reintegrate into society.
To achieve this goal I have not only become an experienced mental health worker, I have by necessity also become an experienced housing worker. Finding rental accommodation in this market is hard for anyone. For people, who have mental health issues and limited resources, finding and keeping good housing is a challenge few are able to meet alone.
Housing affords an individual the safety of a locked door, a forum for self-expression and space to deal with one’s demons in private. No one needs these things more than people with mental health issues, but in my experience they are available only to the most resourceful. For the rest it is whatever no one else will take; and it takes everything one has to stay positive in the face of some of the dark cramped places our service users call home.
Based on my experience recovery from a mental health disability is impossible without good housing and that’s why I think 40 Oaks is so important and why I applied for and gratefully accepted the position of Tenant Services Coordinator.
The CRC project 40 Oaks was conceived not only as an opportunity to add to the depleted stock of affordable housing in Toronto, but also on the belief that without supports tenants with mental health and homelessness issues might easily fail and the cycle of homelessness continue. Right from the start there was a realization that a new model of service delivery had to be developed that afforded people not only housing but the tools to keep it. To this end half the tenants of 40 oaks were referred by social service agencies who, working with staff at 40 Oaks (me), invited clients to apply on the understanding that their support worker would continue to work with them after they were housed.
Because many have made bad life choices and have alienated their families and friends, their worker has been the only person who has stood by them through thick and thin. Knowing this I don’t know which I’ve enjoyed more – watching tenant’s faces light up as they open the door to their, clean, well appointed, light filled apartments or watching their workers so excited that their service user finally has “something good; something clean something nice!” “I feel so hopeful.” they’ve told me over and over again.
My role is to bring these individual social workers from disparate agencies together into a community of support that identifies a healthy safe environment as the best hope for the success of their individual clients. Together we will create opportunities for tenants to learn what healthy personal choices look like and through this self-awareness find empowerment and peace.
I think I have a great job. I think we have a great opportunity to do something that will really make a difference. It’s a risk. And it won’t be easy. But I am so thankful for the opportunity to be part of this great CRC experiment called 40 Oaks.
And we here at the Christian Resource Centre are so thankful for The Equitable Trust Company’s and Rosedale United Church’s support of this program.