KAMLOOPS — It’s a typical scene in the front lobby of Mission Flats Manor, a recently opened supportive housing complex in a remote industrial area of Kamloops.
As one tenant is heading out the door with her small dog, another man is on his way inside walking in his bike on a sunny but cold February afternoon. Both say hello to the social worker managing the front desk behind a sliding glass window.
It seems like a regular apartment building and for the most part, it is. The facility was opened by B.C. Housing in early November 2018. Tenants are required to pay their monthly rent of $375, they are given their own rooms and also have access to multiple common areas.
But Mission Flats Manor is also a low-barrier housing facility, not unlike many other new housing facilities in communities throughout the Thompson-Okanagan. This one is run by ASK Wellness Society, a social services organization that helps individuals with housing, education, employment and emotional support services. There are staff on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support the tenants living there.
“No day, no hour is the same here,” says Melanie Michalewicz, an employee with ASK Wellness.
There are some things that are a bit different than a regular apartment. Staff are required to engage with the buildings tenants on a daily basis if not more, says Coordinator of Housing Supports, Michele Claudepierre.
“We have folks that use [drugs], that’s no secret here and so there are certain people that we always check on,” says Claudepierre. “If we don’t see people we normally see, we will check on them.”
The layout of the building also helps staff see residents more frequently.
"You can't go to the dining room or even to their rooms without passing by the office," Claudepierre says. "It gives us a chance to make sure they are taking medication and let us know which appointment they have for the day."
Besides wellness checks, there is also a nurse on site during the day and a pharmacist that comes in every day to help individuals with methadone doses and other prescriptions.
There are also life-skills workers to help individuals with everything they need to know to succeed once they move on from transitional housing.
“We work with individuals on life skills so that they are able to have the best life possible once they hopefully move on from here,” Michalewicz says.
Staff are also prepared to handle various emergencies. Just last week, there was an overdose in the building.
“We are lucky enough as only having one thus far,” Michalewicz says. “Myself and the nurse dealt with that situation.”
A woman was taken to the hospital and was sent home within three hours after experiencing an overdose. She says having naloxone training and a nurse nearby helped the situation prior to medical personnel arriving.
“I think for what we had to do for the first time, it was the best case scenario,” she says.
Sometimes staff are also forced to deal with incidents that aren’t expected. Police recently arrested a 32-year-old male tenant last month after he set fire to a laundry wicker basket in his room on the second floor. It's another example of just how wide their contingency plans must be.
“It was definitely an unfortunate incident,” Claudepierre says.
She was not on shift when the incident happened. She got a call late in the evening about the fire. The building’s fire suppression system immediately put out the fire which was still in the laundry basket and luckily there was no fire damage to the room, she says.
“The fire was not beyond the wicker basket that was half burnt on one side and a bit melted,” she says. “The downside is that we did have some water damage so we have a little bit of restoration to be completed.”
Despite some rooms experiencing some water damage, nobody was hurt or displaced from their room — other than the tenant.
“It was definitely a scary thing for some residents,” Claudepierre says. “But we also had some residents that helped to take control of the situation, making sure everybody was out, assisting those with mobility issues and making sure all the pets were out.”
It can be a tough place to work, but both women say seeing the successes of some of the tenants is the best part of the job.
"It's gratifying," Claudepierre says. She was born and raised in Kamloops and even recognizes some familiar faces.
"There are a few people I went to school with here, and it's rewarding being able to help them," she says.
There are 55 rooms at the manor, and currently 54 all filled except for the unit currently being restored.
Claudepierre has a backup list of about ten people who have completed B.C. Housing's vulnerability assessment tool for a spot at Mission Flats Manor. The survey is used by staff to determine who would most benefit from supportive housing by assessing a person's vulnerability in ten different areas.
The total number of people in Kamloops who have completed the vulnerability assessment tool looking for housing is well over 100. People chosen for The Branch and The Mustard Seed are also chosen off this list, however, these facilities are only open for the winter.
"So those folks are going to be back needing to find housing again so it's definitely over 100 people that are still needing housing," she says.
People who end up at Mission Flats Manor come from all walks of life.
"There are people who have drug problems, there are people who have drinking problems, there are people with mental health problems, there are young people, there are old people, there are people who used to work and broke their back and now they can't work and then we have people who were living on the beach for six years and just didn't have the life skills or knowledge or the income to even find housing," Claudepierre says.
"We have 54 people here with 54 different reasons."
Mission Flats Manor has funding from the government for the next three years with a possible extension.
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