This was it. I was following two of my passions: writing and giving back to the community.
After going through my own turmoil and having the resources for support and guidance, I knew deep down, I needed to pay it forward.
I began volunteering my time to write for organizations where the premise for their business revolved around the support, guidance and empowerment of their respective communities. I volunteered for one organization that seemed to nourish my soul. SupportiveLiving.ca
I knew nothing about the housing industry and I discovered an organization committed to housing individuals who had complex needs, requiring support services, all while being able to exercise their independence. I suddenly realized I could apply my writing skills to help spread the word about their plight of finding safe, affordable and stable housing.
What is SupportiveLiving?
I had heard about shelters for the homeless or group homes for troubled youth but the concept of providing independence and support, for those who were not sick enough to be in the hospital but too ill to live independently, intrigued me and I learned more about the idea as I developed content for their marketing materials.
Vishal Chityal, their CEO, President and Founder, pioneered the concept of SupportiveLiving in Ontario, where it began almost fourteen years ago with one house in Welland. He was told back then that his first few residents could not be housed. A decade later, he is providing housing, support services and medication management to hundreds of once-deemed ‘non-houseable’ residents. (While there has always been care homes in Ontario, his philosophy behind how care should be delivered to mental health patients in a group setting formed the foundation of SupportiveLiving.ca).
The ‘Housing First’ term was established in the early 1970s because of the development of programs in New York (Pathways to Housing). The roots of Housing First was Houselink in Toronto, “developing an approach to working with people with mental health issues or addictions where the provision of housing was considered a priority.”
While Vishal was immersed in his real estate business, he discovered the need for housing the homeless population. Many of his tenants were people with mental illnesses who struggled to pay their rent because of their vulnerabilities due to their illnesses. He recognized that a large segment of this population were people too – marginalized in society for their mental health problems and resulting addictions -- continuously homeless after being discharged from the hospitals or released from jail. They were stuck in an endless loop and unable to lead independent lives without having the support of social services to manage their addictions, medicine for their mental illness and safe and stable housing.
I was so intrigued by how he was helping these individuals that sitting at my desk writing about it was not enough. I needed to take it one step further.
Vishal already knew the next step and suggested I interview the residents to obtain their feedback about living in a SupportiveLiving residence first-hand. At first, I was reluctant to speak to them, requesting that the home operators interview them on my behalf and relay the information afterwards. But, then I thought, am I practicing what I preached? Did I really need a proxy? If my goal was to get off the train at each stop and meet the community I vowed to help, then I had to reach out to them – DIRECTLY. The lesson I learned.
I must say, I was nervous and did not know what to expect. My hand shook as I apprehensively called the first resident at Walnut Manor. Barb. She was given the heads up that I would be calling and why. As I waited for the staff member to give her the phone, something told me she would be the teacher and I, the student…