A friendly face. A helping hand. These are important to all of us, and they are even more important to people living with mental illness and addictions. In one building in Scarborough, Toronto Community Housing staff have teamed up with the Canadian Mental Health Association to bring specialised supports that are already making a real difference for tenants.
"I must admit that when we began this partnership less than a year ago, I thought there were going to be some growing pains as we learned to work together and get to know each other," said Pio Giralico, Manager, Strengthening Communities in Scarborough program.
Yet according to Pio, the process turned out to be seamless and cooperative. "I attribute this to the fact that all staff involved are caring and compassionate about the work they do," he said. "Everyone realizes that our work is to serve the residents and provide a client-centered approach to service delivery. By working collaboratively, we have created a synergy to achieve these goals."
The Strengthening Communities in Scarborough is a team of clinical staff from the CMHA that includes a Nurse, a Concurrent Disorders and Addictions Specialist, Personal Support Worker and a Case Manager. The staff are on site at the building five days a week.
Strengthening Communities in Scarborough staff (left to right): Laura Laframbois, Bernadette Peters, Michael Macaraig, Pio Giralico, Donna Payne, Keturah Barclay and Steve Lurie.
Since April 2016, SCS has been working with Toronto Community Housing to serve residents living with mental illness and addiction. SCS uses a recovery-based approach to provide support and resources, while Toronto Community Housing staff provide housing support and connections to other community resources.
"We lead and facilitate ongoing collaboration between CMHA and TCHC, enabling success to support residents in this community," explained Gladys Cheung, Manager, Resident and Access Support with Toronto Community Housing.
"This community is one of the many high needs buildings where we anticipate a majority of residents can benefit from the services that CMHA provides and from services that SCS will coordinate."
The building was identified as having significant number of residents needing mental health support. Even though the program is less than a year old, the dedication of TCHC and SCS staff has already helped reduce the volume of calls to Toronto Community Housing's Community Safety Unit and to the Toronto Paramedic Services.
"We are bringing a service to people who wouldn't be able to get mental health and addiction services," said Steve Lurie, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association. "We were thrilled when we were asked to help put together a program that would bring these services to the people of the building. And we already are seeing reduced calls to EMS, reduced police interventions, and people getting better access to mental health and addiction services. And for us that is huge."
Toronto Community Housing Resident Community Service staff (left to right): Ola Adanijo, Mike Morgan, Sherry-Ann Simpson and Gladys Cheung
Sherry-Ann Simpson, Access and Support Community Services Coordinator at Toronto Community Housing, says she has connected a number of vulnerable or isolated residents to CMHA and can see where positive changes have been made as a result.
Michael Macaraig, Nurse Case Manager with SCS, shared a story of a tenant who spoke about wanting to harm himself. "I instantly contacted my team and his other CMHA worker," said Michael. "I also accompanied the client to his psychiatric appointment to ensure that the client safely arrived. Every passing day, I continued to monitor his health until his next doctor's visit. Together with my team, we hope that we continue to make a positive difference in this client's life moving forward."
Through true community collaboration, SCS and Toronto Community Housing have been able to create a safe space for tenants to interact with one another and leave stigmas behind. A holiday dinner in December drew 70 tenants who enjoyed a festive meal and dessert with lots of music and dancing afterwards. It was a much-needed celebration after the many months of extensive work. "I believe with all my heart and soul that they belong here and the people need help here and you guys are doing that. They are there for you if you need to vent, if you need to talk. I can't express how much it's needed here. I'm one person they saved."
— Viola, former tenant
"The [SCS] people are very kind and have good hearts and are genuinely very helpful," said Kevin, a current tenant. "The SCS team are amazing, they are teaching me how to knit. I'm the only guy here with a bunch of women knitting. I think it's nice that they pull me out of my shell." — Kevin, current tenant
The SCS partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association is one of several programs where Toronto Community Housing is bringing social and health services into its buildings. After first being piloted at a high needs building downtown, since 2015 the model has been expanded to other communities across the city.