The WestEnd Commons model of social housing with community support is a powerful tool that can offer people a way out of poverty, social isolation, and food insecurity. These are the main findings of “Here We’re at Home”, a report (link to pdf) published by Jessica Klassen, a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and long-time volunteer at WEC. Based on three years of research, Klassen finds that the combination of affordable housing and the availability of additional supports are key ingredients for improving people’s lives. In addition to the various resources offered in the Neighbourhood Resource Centre in the WestEnd Commons’ basement, there is a Community Connector who works to bring people together and offer support where needed. The impact on the families that live at the WestEnd Commons is immense. Klassen’s report quotes one of the tenants:
“Before, it was me stressing about what was going to happen to us. Were we going to get kicked out? Like, what are we going to do for food? Yeah, and now we have a place to live. Before I couldn’t stock up my cupboards; we were eating noodles and KD. Now I’m more worried about stocking up on the fresh stuff, like the veggies and stuff. It feels good to not be on the food bank anymore. It’s just the fact that the rent is more stable because of the subsidy that we’re allowed to have while we’re living here. And I found when I lived elsewhere I found it really hard to find happy moments. Here, I’m finding a lot of happy moments.”
On Thursday March 1st, the report was presented at WestEnd Commons in front of a large audience. Around 70 people in attendance first heard Jessica Klassen present her findings, emphasizing how greater stability, safety, and community help people in various ways, helping them lead healthier lives and giving them ‘a space to breathe’. This introduction was followed by a panel discussion.
The poignant comments made by Sonia Cashman, one of the current tenants gave a concrete illustration of what ‘a space to breathe’ means in practice, and how much stress the move to the WEC relieved. In addition, comments by board member Genny Funk-Unrau and former St. Matthews Anglican Church priest Cathy Campbell underlined the vision for a unique model of social housing, one in which the tenants and their needs come first.