A local society that helps house men struggling with substance abuse is desperately seeking funding from the city to hire a new worker to help its clients get back on their feet.
The North Island Supportive Recovery Society is looking for $15,500 to pay for an outreach worker to assist men who successfully complete their stint at Second Chance Recovery House – a safe, home-like environment free of drugs and alcohol.
Tessera Brooks, executive director of the North Island Supportive Recovery Society, said the worker, which would work one day a week, is vital to the men’s success rate.
“They stay for 45 days in a safe, supportive shelter and then they leave,” Brooks told council during a presentation Tuesday evening. “Some have success in finding supportive housing but many don’t and that puts them in harm’s way. They often end up homeless and it’s a tragedy because they do so much hard work when they’re in the shelter.”
Often the men have a hard time finding a place to live due to a lack of tenancy skills, and discrimination on the part of the landlord based on a background of homelessness or eviction history. Some landlords are also reluctant to rent to people on income assistance, Brooks said.
But an outreach worker would help the men find and apply for housing and help them develop the skills they need to live independently.
Brooks said she’s seen positive results in the past with having an outreach position.
“We have done it as a project a few years ago and had such success,” Brooks said. “We pursued funding but were unsuccessful.”
One of those sources of funding was the city’s Homelessness Coalition to which Brooks wrote a letter requesting funding but never heard back.
Paul Mason, a homeless outreach worker with BC Housing who joined Brooks in her presentation to council and also sits on the Homelessness Coalition, said the coalition was trying to look at ways to come up with the funding and was waiting to respond.
Mason said if it was up to him, he would dip into his own pockets.
“If I had the money I’d write a cheque right now, I really would,” Mason said.
“There are no resources for men in this town, nothing. This is crazy. So the men who go to Second Chance work their heart out for 30 days, they leave Second Chance and it’s like ‘way to go, well done, now you’re back on the street.’ The men are a huge percentage of the clients I work with day in and day out through my position with BC Housing.”
Brooks agreed it’s hard for men struggling with addiction to find the help they need.
“Services for men, particularly housing, are lacking,” Brooks said. “Often the community sees men with mental health issues, perhaps involved with crime, and don’t have a warm feeling when it comes to men. There is a gap, there is a societal bias.”
Brooks noted that the Second Chance Recovery House is well utilized and a valuable program to the community.
A total of 165 men stayed at the house last year while 455 men used services, such as support groups, that the house provides.
Coun. Ron Kerr encouraged council to support the society’s funding request.
“These are people who are really trying hard, how can you not support that? How can you not?” Kerr asked.
“I visited (Second Chance) and I’ve been very, very impressed by how much you’ve been able to do with so little,” Kerr told Brooks. “When I go there and see the faces of the men that are working their darndest to pull themselves out of horrible situations that most of us can’t imagine and you see you and your helpers working there, I’m incredibly, incredibly impressed.”
Laura Ciarniello, the city’s general manager of corporate services, told council there is Vancouver Island Health Authority homelessness funding available.
That funding, however, was received by the city last year and forwarded to the Homelessness Coalition to decide how it should be allocated.
Part of the funding has already gone towards keeping the Extreme Weather Shelter open each night during what’s turned out to be a mild winter and to funding a support worker for Palmer Place.
Council was reluctant to step on any toes and didn’t want to take away any of the authority it has given to the Homelessness Coalition.
In the end, council chose to consult with the Homelessness Coalition and encourage the group to make a recommendation to council that funds be forwarded to the North Island Supportive Recovery Society to be used to hire the outreach worker.