The Suicide of Public Housing

I’ve got a cousin who has serious problems with substance abuse. She gets AISH. She became homeless in the summer of 2011. From November of 2011 until January of 2012, she was in the hospital. Since I’ve had experience with disability issues, my family has been hopefully that I’d find suitable housing for her.

I was encouraged to learn there’s a number of programs which seemed ideally suited to meeting my cousin’s needs. The media is full of glowing reports about public housing being developed downtown and elsewhere.

I made a concerted effort for months to get information about this housing. The programs and agencies involved don’t answer their phones or return calls. Last summer, I managed to speak to several people at one program. The information I was given was confusing, incomplete, and incorrect. My cousin’s doctor and I went to a great deal of trouble to obtain, fill in, and submit a lengthy application form. This was immediately mired in red tape. There was no follow up to the submission by the program. No one would tell me if the application had been received and my request for an interview for my cousin was denied.

Finally, I sent a registered letter to the Director of this program. I asked for information I should have been given months before. In fairness, I did get a reply.

A social worker at the hospital was easily able to arrange a meeting for my cousin with a private landlord. He came to the hospital. After a half hour discussion, my cousin had a room in a communal house. Since the date of her discharge from the hospital was indefinite, the landlord agreed to hold the room for her. The necessary paperwork took another half hour. The affordable rent is all inclusive. Furniture, a TV, bedding, and kitchenware are provided. The staff has eve offered to drive my cousin around, when she needs it.

This numbered company runs 20 houses. The company has a super efficient staff of five. All calls are answered. This company specializes in accommodating the hard-to-house. An urgent social need is being met quietly, without media hype, government money, or bloated bureaucracy.

I’m a socialist. I believe in government funded social programs. However, as long as public housing in Edmonton keeps shooting itself in the head, I’d say the private guys are the way to go.

I lived in public housing for nearly 20 years. When I moved in, I was at a low point in my life. This housing was a Godsend to me, but has been on a downward trajectory for a long time. In all the time I lived there, my unit was painted once. The paint was so cheap, it came off when I tried to wash the walls.

There was a turning point about five years after I moved in. A veritable dragon lady was installed as Senior Property Manager. She had a fondness for abusive memos. Whenever she wanted anything from us, we were told we’d face “maximum rent” or “24 hour eviction” if we didn’t comply. My neighbour called this woman “insane.” I knew it was time to move when we were told we’d have to find, hire, supervise, and pay contractors to do any repairs to our suites. Did I mention the dirty, stinking piles of garbage that kept accumulating outside the back door?

I now live in a senior’s highrise which is owned and operated by a private, non-profit corporation. The affordable rent includes power and cable. Yes, there is a penalty for late rent. Yes, we must pay for cleaning and maintenance in our apartments. Full time staff is available at affordable rates. Best of all, communiqués are carefully worded and unfailingly polite. My former landlord is a publicly funded corporation. It’s utterly ruthless. My current landlord is committed to courtesy, service, and fair play.

My handicapped son has lived in a privately run, affordable group home since 1993. He’s had a few accidents, but he had accidents in government housing as well. I get exasperated with the high turnover in front line employees. My flexible and easygoing son has no problem with sudden, frequent staff changes. The hiring practices of this agency are so effective, that there seems to be an endless supply of capable, caring, reliable workers.

I’m a socialist. I believe in government funded social programs. However, as long as public housing in Edmonton keeps shooting itself in the head, I’d say the private guys are the way to go.

More in this issue

Janis Irwin MLA
Rhema Kids Club

Neighbourhood Views

Around the Neighbourhood

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