By Wendy Elliott
Presenting in crisis, a mentally ill young woman won’t take her medication. She turns up at the hospital, is arrested frequently and is too disruptive to stay in a Kentville boarding house.
Who can help an individual like that?
Fortunately, last summer, the Kings branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association began a one-year pilot project called Shelter Me.
The program is funded under the federal government’s Homelessness Partnership Strategy for Rural Communities. The two support workers work with residents of Kings County who have a mental illness, who are homeless or at the risk of becoming homeless.
Supervisor Trevor Moores says outreach and advocacy take up most of his time.
“I help people search for apartments. Housing touches everyone.”
Moores and housing support worker Nancy Hurren also try to sort out educational issues. They assist clients trying to navigate the health, police and community services systems.
They’ve partnered with Open Arms to deliver weekly workshops to teach clients how to shop and cook, as well as other skills to help them keep housing.
“They often give us referrals,” he said. “There is such a need for emergency housing year round.”
Twice a week, they link up with the Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA). On Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, VCLA shares space in its Kentville headquarters to allow Moores to teach budgeting, tenancy and other computer-based skills.
Moores, who has a counseling background, says the need for the program was identified through the mental health association’s longstanding Employment Outreach program.
“We found that housing issues often derailed attempts by people to find work or to take training to improve their skills.”
Fortunately, Moores has discovered that various agencies in Kings County, Housing First and several churches in Kentville work well together.
“Collaboration is important,” he points out, especially when people are sleeping in barns.
A lunch and learn series provides a meal and an educational opportunity to as many as 30 individuals, Moores said.
Shelter Me is designed to assist individuals living with mental illness in Kings County who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to implement long-term solutions to obtain and retain housing.
Moores does point out that someone working a minimum wage job will have a hard time finding affordable housing.
“You need to earn $13 an hour, throw in some kids and a car. Do the math. There are a lot of working poor people out there. If you lose your job, or flee abuse or have a substance issue, there are a lot of different housing concerns.”
Moores sees his role as, “helping people move forward. There’s no blame… People want to be a member of the community.”
Among the services offered are housing placement, eviction prevention, referrals to appropriate agencies, skills training, ongoing support and case management to minimize barriers to finding and retaining housing.
The mental health association received funding for two years in order to operate the program. Moores and Hurren are based at the branch office on Opportunity Lane in Coldbrook.