The following article originally appeared in United Way of Greater Victoria‘s publication Your Way – 75th Anniversary Magazine. The Streets2Homes program was originally brought about by a partnership between eight Coalition partners. As of January 1, 2012, Streets2Homes was officially transferred to Pacifica Housing – following the successful conclusion of the Coalition pilot program.
Supporting a Strong Foundation
Streets2Homes is a unique program run through Pacifica Housing, which finds private rental units for people dealing with various challenges.
Around this time last year, 54-year-old Brad Hercina was just coming out of treatment for drug addiction. He was clean and living a healthy lifestyle, waking every morning around 5 am to get to the pool for a swim before heading off to a support meeting at 7 am. At the time, he was staying where he could, mostly in the shelter beds at the Salvation Army or Rock Bay Landing. Eager to keep clean, Hercina was faced with a dilemma that many people coming out of treatment have: how to stay clean while being unable to afford stable housing.
“There’s two sides to living in the shelter or homeless environment while being clean,” he says. “One side is that you see [the drug use] and you think, ‘I’m glad I’m not in that anymore.’ And then there’s the other aspect that if it keeps banging away at you long enough, it’s like water eroding the mountain — eventually you have a bad day or a few bad days and it’s available and you become much more susceptible to falling back into using,” says Hercina, who knows how hard it can be to stay clean while in transition.
Born in Winnipeg, Hercina was a typical prairie guy who married in 1986 and kept active in the community by volunteer-coaching. However, he was, he acknowledges now, a functioning alcoholic: able to keep down a job, but drinking heavily. In the 1990s, he started experimenting with hard drugs, mostly cocaine. “Eventually the dabbling turned me from a functioning addict into a dysfunctional human.”
By the early-2000s he could no longer hold down a job, had lost his driver’s license and was divorced. He suffered severe depression and had very little desire to participate in life. But by 2004, he’d started his healing journey, which he admits has been a long road.
“After getting some clean time under my belt, I started taking courses in social field,” he says. Most of his training was in crisis and peer counselling.
In 2007, Hercina moved west to Squamish and started working in homeless shelters and doing respite work, eventually becoming a foster parent to young man for six months. But after his contract ended there, he slipped into a depression and started using cocaine again.
“I thought it would be a one-night thing,” he remembers. “But it turned into three months, in which time I lost basically everything.” He wound up living in homeless shelter himself, stuck in a cycle of drug addiction and depression that is common for addicts. It’s a cycle that is very hard to break.
Poverty in Broadly Defined
Some of the work being done to help people like Brad Hercina move away from cycles of homelessness and drug addiction is directly related to the United Way’s national impact area called From poverty to possibility. In Victoria, the initiative’s scope includes funding for programs like subsidized housing and homeless shelters, but also supports a range of programs like work training, drug counselling services and community support for mental illness. To United Way of Greater Victoria CEO Linda Hughes, the definition of poverty is broad.
“It can be poverty of identity,” she says. “Whether you’re an immigrant or an isolated senior, or have poverty of power. It can be people who feel like they’ve got nothing to offer.”
Of the United Way of Greater Victoria’s 132 funded programs, 57 fall under the banner of From poverty to possibility.
For Tenant and Landlords
The Streets2Homes is one of those initiatives and is run by Pacifica Housing. It was developed in 2009 through the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. It is designed to help people move from a pattern of homelessness and drug addiction into more stable environments by supporting their housing needs in rental apartments in the private market. Before entering treatment for drug addiction in 2011, Hercina had learned about the Streets2Homes program. While staying in shelters after coming out of treatment, he went to the Downtown Outreach services office on Cormorant Street to look into it. There, the staff connected him to a support worker, and after a short two-month period on a waiting list, he was helped to find a private apartment with an understanding landlord in James Bay in late November last year. He has remained there ever since.
“Streets2Homes is a very high concept program,” says coordinator Brad Crewson. “Over the past few years we’ve developed relationships with landlords. They know who we work with and they’re comfortable working with us to house people who have some challenges.”
An integral aspect of those relationships are the Landlord Liaisons — a small group of people who work as go-betweens for the program and the private market. “It’s a pivotal role,” says Crewson. “They serve as support for landlords; the first point of contact if anything goes sideways. They recruit new landlords and mediate if there are problems.” For example, a landlord can call if the tenant is having issues with the neighbours or struggling to meet rent.
Al Kemp, CEO of the Rental Owners and Managers of BC, said tenants who are doing well in social housing can be supported to move into private rentals, freeing up space in social housing to those just coming off the street. It reduces the need to build expensive social housing projects, which are often in development for years before addressing housing needs.
With an annual budget of $860,000 for Streets2Homes –– $230,000 of which came from the United Way in 2011 –– the program provides an individual housing subsidy of up to $300 per month, depending on income and rent cost. People might also receive financial assistance for replacing lost ID or for some basic housekeeping items when they first move in. “There is no set amount per person for this kind of assistance, and we try to keep it to the essentials,” says Crewson.
As of July this year, 85 people were actively housed in the program and 15 more had moved on in positive ways. “We want to create an environment where people are able to reach their potential,” says Crewson.
Groups that deal with homelessness and other housing issues typically work under the assumption that stability in one aspect of life is key to finding it in others. The United Way’s
poverty to possibility initiatives help create stability in all areas of peoples’ lives, providing not only opportunities, but the personal empowerment needed to take advantage of them.
Under the From poverty to possibility focus, other United Way supported housing initiatives like those provided by Cool Aid and the Victoria Housing Society, often provide opportunities for an individual to discover his or her own potential.
“Once people start to experience their own power, they may start to think in terms of being able to succeed in other ways,” says Crewson.
Support Workers Listen
To support the transition from poverty to possibility, Streets2Homes connects people in the program to one of five support workers, who help about 25 people at a time.
“I never make decisions for my clients,” says Birger Reith, one of the program’s support workers, who was linked with Hercina. “We discuss the options. I don’t feed them my opinion about how they should live their lives.” Instead, he asks clients what they think should happen, puts control back into their hands, and then helps them achieve individualized goals.
For Hercina, who came out of treatment one year ago, that approach and his stable housing have provided him the confidence to start looking beyond his addiction. He has completed a two-year Celtic shaman apprenticeship and is a certified Reiki master, but he says it’s more likely that he’ll wind up working in the caregiver field in the future, perhaps training as a community health worker through one of the training services such as the REES and Peer to Peer programs at Cool Aid, also supported by the United Way.
For now though, he continues to talk with Reith on a regular basis. He’s befriended his landlord and they often get together to play guitar, far from the streets where he used to seek shelter and do drugs.