Way back in 2002, there was a need for agency coordination in providing advocacy and support to the ‘hard to house clients’. Supportive Transitional Housing Team was formed; it later became known as Support Through Housing Team (STHT). Funded by the United Way, STHT provided wrap-around services for individuals and families facing barriers to housing.
“He noticed some patterns in the community,” said Diane Akkad, Executive Director, STHT. “So it was mandated that we work with the community, with agencies, so that clients wouldn’t fall through the cracks.”
Under the leadership of Akkad, Coordinator Tonya Howe and Life Coach Cathy Maguire, STHT works very closely with 13 other agencies to provide hope to individuals and families wanting to get into a home and are ready to do the work to make it happen.
According to Howe, the agencies convene monthly and ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding a client’s readiness to move into transitional housing. That relationship usually begins with an agency referral and a willingness to change.
STHT works with the individual to create a service plan, ensuring that help is provided in the areas of mental health, addictions counselling, budgeting, life skills and more.
“The wrap around service would help them with any single barrier that they may have,” said Akkad. “There’s no timeframe. There’s no limit. They’re able to fail and they are able to retry. It’s like a hug until they succeed.”
Working with STHT staff and agencies, clients get assistance in a variety of different area all wrapped up in a service plan with the ultimate goal of getting them ready for transitional housing. That process requires commitment and accountability on the part of the client.
“Our housing isn’t immediate,” said Tonya. “Once a client comes aboard, they’ll be working with me for an average of two or three months first. So, if they are meeting with me on a weekly basis, they are keeping me updated on their circumstances, then at two or three months, depending on the progress, that’s when I would bring it to the team.”
When a recommendation comes to the group, a vote is taken and majority rules.
The 7 transitional units are located in Centennial House on Centennial Drive, a building owned and operated by Wood Buffalo Housing. With on-site security that lives in one of the units, 24-hour video surveillance and rules in place regarding access, the environment is designed to maximize the chance of success.
Clients pay rent and bills, and have to take responsibility of going through the application process with Wood Buffalo Housing. However, they have access to support from the Support Through Housing Team, including regular check-ins and weekly life skills meetings with Cathy Maguire. Part of their responsibilities is to attend the Collective Kitchen sessions, where they talk about various aspects of establishing good life skills practices. Plus, they all plan and cook a meal together.
“It’s all client driven,” said Akkad. “If the client decides they’re ready to work for a better life then we’re ready to work with them. If they think they’re good to be independent now, we let them go.”
For Tonya Howe, it’s being able to help people get back on their feet that is the biggest motivator.
“My biggest feel good moment was when I was able to help out a single mom,” said Howe.
Pregnant and near her due date, she was staying with another lady and sleeping on an air mattress.
“I really fought to get her into the program,” she recalled. “I made it a priority to get everything in order to get her moved in. I spent the whole weekend running around and getting things because she had nothing except what could fit in a couple of suitcases.”
Howe solicited help from the community and generous people began offering up furnishings and household items. The response, in the days just before the Christmas holidays, was amazing.
“She woke up that day with only two suitcases,” said Howe. “Now she had a whole house full of stuff. She was so grateful,” said Howe. “Being a single mom myself, it really hit home..”
“Our whole program is collaboration,” said Akkad. “We work with 13 organizations on our agency team. They are the foundation of what we do. Our clients are successful because we have one consent between all the agencies and our clients.”
When clients sign up with STHT, they sign a form that allows the team to share information. This reduces duplication, enhances communication, and ultimately, better serves the client.
“The model we have, keeping the 13 agencies together, meeting every month, openly talking about problems we are having, and being able to troubleshoot, all together, at the one time, really helps us be successful, really care, and move the client forward where they need to be.”
What does the United Way mean to STHT?
“Everything,” said Akkad. “Really, really everything. The United Way and The Redpoll Centre; I believe we reflect each other. You guys have your open concept, everyone works together, so many different agencies under one umbrella, working well, getting along, all moving forward for the same cause of the community. We’re just a smaller reflection of that. Besides the funding, which helps us run everything, it’s like a family.”