Staff support each other to serve tenant in crisis

Staff support each other to serve tenant in crisis

March 24, 2017

​At Toronto Community Housing, integrity and community collaboration are two of our core values. Here’s what these core values look like when we live them.

The Client Care Centre deals with any number of challenging situations every single day. One incident occurred recently when a tenant reached out for help.

“A senior tenant was on the phone and she was talking about bed bugs. She had disposed of all of her furniture and wanted to know what to do,” said Oillene Atkins-Brown, the Client Care Agent who initially took the call.

The tenant had been dealing with the pest infestation for several days and was trying without success to resolve the issue by herself. By the time she called the Client Care Centre, she was extremely frustrated and had lost her patience. It was at this point that Oillene reached out to her fellow agents to help her with the call. The agents often rely on each other for support.

“These types of calls can be very stressful,” said Sandra Tibby, the Client Care Agent who assisted during the call by sharing her experience with a similar caller. “I always do everything I can to help these types of callers.”

Oillene worked with her team to eventually reduce the tenant’s emotional stress. They connected with the Community Safety Unit (CSU) to do a welfare check. Special Constable Jason DeAngelis was on duty at the time.  

Jason also connected with Manager, Resident Access and Support Gladys Cheung and Community Services Coordinator Denise McCalla. He asked them to visit the tenant and further explain the pest control procedure.

“My role is to let tenants know that we as an organization are here for them and also show them what we can do,” said Denise. “I reassured the tenant that the removal of pests is a standard procedure that is available on a weekly basis.”

Denise guided the tenant on steps to take to help lessen the issue before the technicians arrived to do the pest control treatment. Denise’s visit and further explanation of the preparation process also helped to calm the tenant’s anxiety.

Thanks to the responsiveness and quick action of everyone involved and the collaborative efforts between staff from different divisions, the tenant got the appropriate attention and support that she needed.

Be aware


Mental health awareness is critical to a healthy workplace and to the services we provide to tenants. If you’re dealing with a person in crisis, whether at work or in your personal life, there are resources to help you. Here are some helpful tips from our mental health awareness training. Keep them in mind when dealing with a person in crisis:

  • Alert the police and CSU. If you believe a person is a risk to themselves or others, be sure to contact the police immediately.
  • Speak in a slow, calm, clear manner. While you can’t control the person’s behavior, how you respond to their behavior will have a direct effect on whether the situation escalates or defuses.
  • Be mindful of your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice. The more a person loses control, the less they hear your words—and the more they react to your nonverbal communication.
  • Get the individual talking about the situation and be available to listen. Ask what will help them feel safe and in control.
  • Try not to minimize the trauma in an attempt to make the individual feel better. The best thing you can do is offer support. 
  • Allow silence for reflection. While it may seem counterintuitive to let moments of silence occur, sometimes it’s the best choice.
  • Recognize that you are not immune to the trauma. Following an incident, be sure to debrief with coworkers, team members or a manager/supervisor.​