The residents at the Q’waxsem Place supportive housing facility in Campbell River celebrated their first anniversary in the building last month.
A 50 unit apartment supportive housing complex on Dogwood Street, Q’waxsem Place was opened officially in February, 2021. Just over a year later, 90 per cent of the people who were originally housed in the facility when it opened are still living there today.
“The last year has been a huge process of settling in to a new neighbourhood and supporting 50 people who were previously homeless to create a space to call home,” said Vancouver Island Mental Health Society Housing and Program manager Kristi Schwanicke. “For 90 per cent of our tenants this has been a place to call home for the past year, I think that’s really reflective of the supports our community members have been offering this building. We’re able to support people on site with all of our community partners and friends of Q’waxsem as well.”
However, it is not just the people who have moved into the building that have had to adjust to the new neighbourhood dynamic. To help the transition, Schwanicke said that the team at Q’waxsem has done a lot of work reaching out to neighbours in the area around 580 Dogwood Street.
“We hosted a reverse-open house a few months ago, we had a neighbourhood barbecue so that people could just attend and meet some of our tenants and create some familiarity,” she said. “We came together on a monthly basis for the first six months to just go over any neighbourhood concerns that came up. What’s evolved from that is that once a week our tenants would go through the neighbourhood to do a litter pick up and to be just community ambassadors even in our own sub-community here at Q’waxsem.
“I drove up today and a tenant had a sign on them saying ‘Q’waxsem volunteer,’” she said. “They really took it to the next level. We just want to ensure that we want to be good neighbours.”
The 50 residents of Q’waxsem place come from many different backgrounds, and have different goals, identities and ranges of mobility and health. The tenants all pay rent for their suites. Rents are determined by their level of income assistance, either the shelter portion of their income assistance or 30 per cent of their income if that income is higher than the income assistance rate.
The facility does have supports that are provided on site. There is nursing care on site, and the VIMHS team has been working with health teams, community health services and more traditional nursing and health care. However, like with other apartment buildings, there is no sobriety requirement for people living in Q’waxsem place. However, the residents do have resources to help them if they are interested in pursuing those goals.
For many, the most beneficial thing is having a roof over their head and a community to which they can belong.
“Our folks feel that Q’waxsem is home,” Schwanicke said. “People came from absolute homelessness. There’s one woman in our building who was homeless for the past 14 years in our community. She is so excited that she has a place to call home and often invites me to just see her room and the pride that she has in that space.
“I wish we could amplify and elevate everyone’s stories,” Schwanicke said. “The benefit of doing this work is that we get to see so much success, even when it might not all be perceived that way in our community. I’m happy to share a moment where we just get to celebrate our tenants on site and the work that they’ve done to create this place that they call home.”