Jason Haskett and Rachel Williams celebrated one year off the streets in July 2020 thanks to finding a home at My Place in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Jason Haskett and Rachel Williams celebrated one year off the streets in July 2020 thanks to finding a home at My Place in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Supportive housing gives former homeless Okanagan couple hope

‘This building has helped us become stable and without it we’d probably still be out in the streets’

Wondering where they were going to sleep at night was a daily struggle for Rachel Williams and Jason Haskett.

Addicted to drugs and living in and out of shelters is a not-too-distant memory for the couple.

But that basic need, housing, is no longer a concern, thanks to My Place. Williams and Haskett were some of the first to call the supportive housing apartment home, when it first opened in July 2019.

“It’s nice to be able to rest your head in a nice warm place,” said Haskett.

Both in their 40s, the pair have stuck together through some tough years. That’s all they really had when they hit rock bottom and their addictions saw them lose their home and almost all their worldly possessions.

But not having to worry about where they are going to spend the nights has allowed them to focus on getting better.

“This building has helped us become stable and without it, we’d probably still be out in the streets,” Haskett said. “We’d be a lot worse off.”

Thanks to My Place, the couple has been able to get control of their addictions. While they still use, they aren’t spending all their money on drugs. And they aren’t spending their time stealing and trying to get money for drugs. Instead, they are volunteering their time helping others — whether it’s handing out water in the heat of summer to other people living on the street, cleaning up needles or volunteering at the Overdose Prevention Site.

“We’re trying to get our lives back together because we’ve hit rock bottom,” Haskett said. “I’ve been down this road a little too long, more than I want to be. I want to straighten up I want to travel with her, I want to do something with our lives.”

It’s given them joy, purpose and support.

That’s exactly what the 50-unit housing project aims to do. And efforts are building to construct the second phase of My Place, which will double the number of supportive housing beds in the community.

But that was recently threatened by a motion from Vernon Coun. Scott Anderson, who had requested a moratorium on future projects.

Anderson has since withdrawn his request, which also called for a third-party audit of all BC Housing funded projects in Vernon, on the basis that it was “too broad” of a motion and “unfortunately included BC Housing initiatives that I’m in favour of,” Anderson said in a follow-up statement Feb. 22.

The withdrawal was welcome news to staff at Turning Points Collaborative Society, which operates My Place.

READ MORE: Vernon councillor to ‘refocus’ too broad housing audit motion

“We believe that any disruption of the supportive housing projects in our city will put vulnerable lives at risk, put more people on the streets or in parks, and cause further outcry from the community,” the society said.

Anderson’s original motion prompted a flurry of support for Turning Points on social media sites, on community forums and to Vernon city council.

While Anderson withdrew his motion, he warned it would return “more focused” at a later date.

With a vacancy rate of one per cent in Vernon, Turning Points said now is not the time to disrupt the progress being made to help people put a roof over their head.

“On top of that, we are in the middle of a pandemic as well as a deadly opioid crisis. There is more need than ever in our community for supportive housing, as well as the continuum of services that follow,” the agency said.

Addiction treatment, harm reduction services, mental and physical health supports, a community support worker, employment services, and a healthy peer network were given to the 56 people who first called My Place home and all those who continue to.

“Of course measuring success for individual human beings is determined on a case-by-case basis, but without a doubt, lives have been saved,” Turning Points said.

Surrounding neighbours have been supportive of My Place. In a survey conducted by Turning Points in June of 2020, 98 per cent of area residents and businesses stated they would support more supportive housing in the community, and 70 per cent stated that the neighbourhood had improved.

There are currently two additional supportive housing projects in motion with BC Housing, each of which would create 25-30 jobs.

READ MORE: Housing audit would derail process


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jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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