Kerry Rae is a home support worker at Ward Street Place. Photo: Submitted

Kerry Rae is a home support worker at Ward Street Place. Photo: Submitted

HOW WE CARE: Ready For Home takes care of Nelson’s most vulnerable residents

Stephanie Myers writes about the Nelson CARES program

by Stephanie Myers

How We CARE

Nelson CARES Society is committed to providing safe, stable and affordable housing. This includes housing for people leaving homelessness and those who have difficulty maintaining their housing due to chronic illness, mental health challenges, and/or substance use.

To help Ward Street Place tenants maintain their housing, Nelson CARES created Ready for Home. This program offers wrap-around support to individuals who are often coping with challenges to maintain their housing. The goal of this program is to disrupt the cycle of homelessness by working one-on-one to support individuals while in a safe and stable housing environment. WSP has an increasing number of senior and palliative individuals who live in the building with many on the waiting list also falling into that demographic.

The internationally acclaimed Housing First model has shown that re-entry into homelessness diminishes significantly for people who are able to stay housed and supported for just two years, and mental and physical health outcomes are dramatically improved. The model is simple; first, provide safe, stable, affordable housing like Ward Street Place and second, provide one-on-one supports like Ready for Home. Unfortunately, there is very little government funding for this crucial second part.

First piloted by Nelson CARES in January 2016 at Ward Street Place and Lakeside Place, the Ready for Home program assessed its resident’s greatest challenges and the biggest threats to remaining housed. During this time, Nelson CARES offered assistance to residents who had been chronically or episodically homeless.

During this pilot, a trained home support worker provided services to tenants, resulting in a dramatic 50 per cent reduction of interactions with the Nelson Police Department compared to the previous year. For residents with chronic health diseases and disorders, we found that having an advocate gave a more appropriate and effective outcome with health professionals. The worker would help with scheduling and attending appointments, following treatment orders, and ensuring the client has agency in their treatment options and understands their diagnosis and possible outcomes.

Nelson CARES staff additionally organized residential group activities to address social isolation, and the high degree of participation helped foster a new sense of community within each building.

Kerry Rae was in the position of home support worker at Ward Street Place in 2016 when the Ready for Home program was first piloted. She has this to say about her experience with Ready for Home now:

“In the last four years since I was in this position, there is a lot more stability for the folks using the services, there are fewer crisis events, people are more connected, they are reaching out when they struggle. It is needed more for mental health concerns and for new people moving into the building, people are a lot more stable, people are eating better, they are maintaining their housing, there are fewer calls to emergency services.”

The Ready for Home program principles include: maintaining safe and affordable housing, ensuring food security for residents, assisting with access to transportation, life skills development, increasing access to income and health services, building a positive self-image and maintaining social inclusion.

When asked about what might happen to the residents if these supports were not there Kerry Rae stated, “A lot of times people would lose their housing. They would get overwhelmed and everything would fall apart. They wouldn’t attend their doctor appointments, they couldn’t maintain personal relationships of any kind, often they would be evicted or chose to go back to the streets.”

As there is no government funding for this crucial work, Nelson CARES supports this program through annual fundraising events such as Coldest Night of the Year and generous donations from the community.

Since 2012 Ward Street Place has undergone major upgrades to this historic building including a complete redo of the building’s electrical, installation of a fire suppression system and increased livability within the building, especially in the individual rental units.

This year Nelson CARES was the recipient of the City of Nelson’s Heritage Award for this work, the award included a $1,000 honorarium that the Nelson CARES board and staff have elected to use to seed the Ward Basics Fund. This fund assists tenants in crisis and helps with groceries, medications, and other basic needs. The public can donate to this fund by heading to https://nelsoncares.ca/donate/.