By Sue Stefko
With the construction of the John Howard Society (JHS) supportive-housing development at 289 Carling Avenue now into its fourth month, the JHS has stepped up preparations to operate in the community by hiring residential coordinator Joshua Bridges. His role is to oversee both community engagement and the development of programs for residents of the facility. Bridges is already taking his role in community engagement seriously – he will be setting up a virtual meeting for immediate neighbours of the development to answer questions about the construction process, which started just before Christmas.
Fortunately, the most painful part of the build is now complete. The excavation phase, two months of bone-shaking hammering, was extended slightly after the project team ran into deep layers of rock that were much harder than expected. Fortunately, the construction team brought in another backhoe to expedite the process. It was a difficult time for neighbours, especially since the excavation coincided with a provincial stay-at-home order. After the excavation was done, there was a month-long break as more permits needed to be obtained before construction resumed in mid-March. As a result of the delay, construction is now expected to wrap up next March instead of by the end of this year.
When it comes to the site’s tenants, Bridges says he will be working with the city’s Housing Branch to identify men and women who would be a good fit for the program. These are people who have a level of stability and responsibility that would enable them to live in their own self-contained apartment units with moderate levels of on-site support. Residents are expected to be those deemed “chronically homeless,” a term used to describe people 18 years or older who have been living without stable accommodation for at least six months. Once clients are referred, case managers from the building meet with them to ensure their needs match the services and support available at the residence. If the team feels the client would be a good fit, there is usually a building tour and then a lease is signed.
As for the community-engagement part of his job, Bridges comes with the experience he gained running a JHS Enhanced Supportive Housing Program in Hintonburg, which provides housing and support services to those living with complex mental-health and addictions issues. That challenging job gave Bridges some hard-earned experience in dealing with sensitive situations that require tact and strong communications skills to manage community relationships. Bridges notes that while the new Carling project is aimed at a different client group, he has “learned a great deal over the last three years from the tenants, our partners, the staff and the neighbours of this (Hintonburg) program, and I will bring many of those lessons with me to this (289 Carling) project.”
For instance, to help foster the relationship between the Hintonburg facility and its neighbours, the JHS holds community meetings every month or two to share updates and to allow local residents to voice concerns or give feedback. The JHS also looks for opportunities for tenants to take part in community functions, such as neighbourhood clean-ups or open houses organized by the tenants. The JHS also uses community supports, such as the Parkdale Food Centre or Somerset West Community Health Centre, to build local support networks for their clients. Bridges also likes to see community volunteers help bring people together – in Hintonburg, volunteer supports include gardening, serving meals, yoga classes and bringing animals to interact with residents.
At 289 Carling, Bridges intends to be in close contact with immediate neighbours and interested members of the community to keep them informed, both during construction and after the site begins operating.
From his previous experience, Bridges understands the importance of open and consistent communication between the coordinator and the community and how a sense of connection and community are crucial, for both the tenants and the neighbourhood. His goal is fairly straightforward – “for John Howard Society residents and staff to be positive and contributing members of the neighbourhood and wider community.”
Sue Stefko is president of the Glebe Annex Community Association.