Wendy Richardson, executive director of the John Howard Society of North Island, at the opening of a supportive housing project in Courtenay. At left is Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard. Scott Stanfield photo

Junction tenant questions safety at Courtenay’s supportive housing facility

"When I first moved in, I felt safe. I don't feel safe now."

Marion Oppel tries to spend as much time away from her home at The Junction because she doesn’t feel safe, and said despite bringing complaints to staff, nothing has been done.

But according to the John Howard Society of North Island, which operates the building and provides services to its residents, safety for all who live in the three-storey modular apartment building on 8th Street in Courtenay, is their primary concern.

The Junction, a 46-unit supportive housing project which was opened in April this year, is a housing facility for people experiencing homelessness. Each unit has a kitchenette and washroom, and the ground floor includes a commercial-grade kitchen, common dining area and laundry facilities.

Oppel, who moved into her unit at the end of April, said she has witnessed tenants physically and verbally abusing each other in the public areas.

RELATED: 46-unit supportive housing project opens in Courtenay

She said she has brought the issue up to on-site staff and has filed two formal complaints with the John Howard society. While staff has informed her some tenants are dealing with addiction or mental health issues, Oppel noted that is no excuse to allow abuse to other tenants.

“When I first moved in, I felt safe. I don’t feel safe now. (Staff) has to step up and deal with this – it’s making all of us look bad – there’s a stigma,” she explained.

“A lot of us are not bad, and it’s not what we want to be.”

After about five months at The Junction, Oppel is now looking at alternative housing. Residents at The Junction pay $375 a month – the social assistance shelter allowance provided by the B.C. government. (Rent includes two meals a day).

Other housing options will be above her budget, she explained, and paying rent outside The Junction will cut into her monthly food budget, but Oppel said moving into a new residence is worth it.

Wendy Richardson, executive director of the John Howard Society of North Island said the role of The Junction is not that of affordable housing, rather supportive housing.

“We do occasionally get complaints, but we are low-barrier housing for street-entrenched individuals and many have mental health and addiction issues. The goal for us is that they become healthy, and we are a different kind of housing that might meet their needs.”

The intent for the JHS is to deliver a program that will help tenants achieve stability in housing while supporting them in accessing community-based services that will optimize health and wellness.

Richardson explained if a disruption takes places with tenants, staff are well-trained but it doesn’t mean a tenant will be evicted.

“We work in a very progressive way, and people are learning how to cope. Staff will step in and they are on site. When we are dealing with some tenants they have issues that are deeply embedded and we have to strike a balance where we enforce rules with a level of comfort; that doesn’t happen overnight.”

As the housing is considered supportive, Richardson said they provide a home for those who otherwise would not be able to manage living by themselves, which is one of the reasons food is included. Some tenants, she added, are chronically ill.

There have been a few people who have been asked to leave The Junction, but she added there have been “very, very few situations where someone was harmed.”

As for those such as Oppel who are looking to leave, Richardson said there is a success to be found, as The Junction was used a stepping stone.

“She has a roof over her head while she is searching, is able to manage by herself and has access to services to assist, which is leading her to search for affordable housing. She may not have had access to that previously.”

erin.haluschak@comoxvalleyrecord.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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