Finding a sense of place and purpose, when you are struggling with mental health and addiction issues, can be tough.

“Chris”, a CRC tenant at 40 Oaks, says he has felt like “the odd guy out” for most of his life. Difficult experiences in his adolescence led to substance abuse issues. In trying to manage the shame and guilt he felt about his addiction, Chris isolated himself to the point that he wanted to be invisible.

Chris admits, “I avoided everyone and everything. I didn’t leave my room very often – most of the other tenants didn’t even know that I lived here.”

CRC tenant ‘Chris’ and Kei Lau, CRC’s Tenant Engagement Coordinator on a 40 Oaks tenant outing to Toronto Islands, summer 2019

Just before Chris met Kei, CRC’s Tenant Support and Engagement Coordinator, his addiction was getting the best of him and his mental state was fragile. It was at a Tenant Action meeting that Chris made that first important connection. These monthly meetings are one of the new initiatives supported by Kei that help tenants gain knowledge about wrap-around supports at 40 Oaks and in the wider Regent Park Community. Kei helped Chris save $200 when he needed new glasses, through benefits he didn’t realize were available to him. For Chris, who is only able to work part-time, that $200 made a huge difference in his ability to pay his bills.

Since that first interaction, Kei has been a source of inspiration and support for Chris. When asked how his experience as a tenant has changed since working with Kei, Chris responded, “One of the biggest benefits is that I always have someone to talk to. Once I became more comfortable with Kei, I was able to gain confidence in my social skills, open up to more people, and it went from there.”

This is where community comes into play. When people like Chris are included in a positive, supportive and caring environment, they regain a sense of belonging and trust. When they feel valued, the whole community benefits.

Because of this support, Chris has been able to live well at 40 Oaks. He is managing his addiction issues and taking advantage of supports and programs at CRC and in the community. Chris participated in summer community outings to Riverdale Farm, High Park and Toronto Island. He is volunteering with meal prep for CRC’s daily Community Meals and in CRC’s Community Gardens every Friday.

Chris can’t help but gleam with pride when talking about his gardening experience, not only is he making friends in the community, he is filled with a new-found appreciation for life. Chris says, “This is a rewarding experience for me because I feel like I’m learning valuable skills. I’m learning how to create food out of nothing, except time and effort.”

When asked about the most gratifying part of her work, Kei didn’t miss a beat when she answered, “To see tenants getting to where they want to be, and making better decisions to live the life they want to live.”

Chris is just one example of the many diverse participants who are supported by CRC’s multiple programs and services, such as Housing, Meals, Drop-in showers and laundry, and Advocacy Programs.