Sector voices: Overcoming the impossible
This story was shared by ONPHA member Options Bytown. Read on to learn how one of their tenants overcame significant challenges in a supportive housing environment.
How one social housing tenant turned her life around with the right supports
Linda is a special person who benefitted from the encouragement and support of Options Bytown. She’s faced almost every kind of challenge you can think of, and yet, she managed to overcome the impossible.
Linda was born in a family of nine children. At age five, Linda and her siblings were placed in foster care. Linda was devastated. She loved her mother and father, and she didn’t understand why this was happening to her.
Linda’s experienced ongoing abuse in her foster home, being frequently hit and chastised for what her foster parents believed was a mental delay. She was a sensitive child and retreated into herself to overcome the pain. When Linda stopped speaking, her foster parents sent her to the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Institute for testing. That’s when they discovered Linda was suffering from what is known as separation trauma.
At age 10, Linda was adopted by a new foster family. Once again, she experienced violence and verbal abuse. By this point, she had developed a tough exterior. At times, she would run away and hang out with kids who lived on her street. She started drinking and doing drugs, and she stopped going to school.
By age 19, Linda was married and pregnant. Her baby was born with Cerebral Palsy. Her husband wasn’t interested in looking after a handicapped child – soon after the baby was born, he left Linda and the baby behind. Not long after, Linda met her second husband and became pregnant with his child. After the baby was born, Linda never saw her husband again.
Linda now had two children to look after, and she knew she couldn’t do it alone. She put both children in foster care, with visitation rights, so she could see them whenever she wanted to. From there, Linda hoped to improve her situation, but things moved from bad to worse.
After giving up her children, Linda became addicted to cocaine, and started to work in prostitution to support the habit. She had trouble maintaining a stable place to live, and was in and out of jail. She was consumed by thoughts of suicide. Clearly, her life was spiralling out of control.
Overcoming the impossible, with the right supports
It was during this time that a lawyer asked Linda if she wanted to try Drug Treatment Court for her addiction. That was eight years ago. Today, Linda is celebrating seven years of sobriety.
Since leaving treatment, Linda has been living in an Ottawa Community Housing apartment community, where Options Bytown operates a Resource Centre that provides supports for Linda to maintain her sobriety.
Linda’s Options Bytown Housing Support Worker helped her to conquer her challenges step by step. First, she was guided to seek mental health care. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and was prescribed medication that has helped her cope very effectively.
Next, Linda’s Support Worker helped her search for work. Today, Linda is successfully employed. She’s been reunited with her two boys, and has a supportive group of friends from work.
With her Housing Support Worker’s guidance, Linda has set personal goals for herself as well. She’s learned to drive a car and now has her license. She is saving up to buy her own car, with a goal of driving out to see her son and new grandson in North Bay within the year.
On top of working full time, Linda is planning to enrol in night classes in Hotel Management and she is working hard to obtain a pardon from the law as soon as possible.
Many of our tenants are willing to share stories about the challenges they’ve faced and the power of supportive housing to help turn things around. Linda’s story is just one.
The Options approach
Non-profit supportive housing providers all across Ontario face similar challenges in supporting tenants with complex, ongoing, and overlapping needs – and we are all learning from each other to make our approaches stronger. Here are a few pieces of advice Options can share when it comes to addressing the needs of vulnerable tenants:
- Be creative in forging new partnerships: Stay on top of emerging trends and what others are doing to provide services in your area. Look for opportunities to start conversations, work and partner with organizations who can provide your tenants with the right mix of supports. Sometimes, achieving what’s best for the tenant and client means taking off your ‘agency hat’ and letting others take the lead.
- Invest in your staff: At Options, we believe strongly in giving our staff the training and development opportunities they need to continue to fine-tune their approach with tenants.
- Don’t be afraid to be ‘hands-on’ with tenants: Working directly with tenants right in their apartments helps us form strong relationships and keep our finger on the ‘pulse’ of our community.
- Evaluate and adjust: It’s important to evaluate the work you’re doing, and be willing to change your approach – even midstream – if it means more effectively supporting your tenants and achieving better outcomes. One size does not fit all.
At Options Bytown, the people come first. We give them hope by helping them to deal with the issues that made them homeless, and to develop the life skills they need to live independently and participate more fully in community life.