Staff at Rosethorn House are seeing progress in the mental health of residents, both anecdotally and through statistics.
The 42-unit modular housing project for the homeless, downtown at 259 West Victoria St., opened in January of 2020, just two months before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
Since then, Rosethorn has seen engagement in mental-health support services and street nurses rise from about five per cent of tenants to more than 70 per cent of those living there.
Rosethorn manager of supportive housing Michelle Gauthier has seen many success stories among residents.
“I’ve got one fellow, he’ll come and say it’s a really bad day today, whereas before a really bad day for him, he would potentially end up in hospital,” Gauthier said.
“To be able to talk that out and find the words to work through that, as opposed to just having an outburst, I think that’s been a huge success.”
Alfred Achoba, interim executive director of the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which manages the building, noted one client who had a history of aggression, but has reached a state where she is engaged in programming and will greet people.
Another resident, Achoba said, is looking into joining the City of Kamloops’ landscaping crew, while many others have secured employment, thanks to supports at Rosethorn.
Achoba said the goal is to get people to a point in which they feel comfortable managing their mental health while being engaged with their community.
Gauthier said she has seen some tenants struggling with mental-health issues come to Rosethorn and finally get the medication they were in need of, along with regular appointments with service providers.
As opposed to being on the street and essentially on their own in seeking help, tenants at Rosethorn have access to services and referrals at their fingertips and staff is there to encourage them in seeking the supports they need in their lives through wellness plans.
Daniel Hall, who has lived at Rosethorn since it opened last year, said there are a variety of supports one can receive and there is always someone with whom to talk.
“Rosethorn has never let me down — ever,” Hall said, adding he hopes more homeless people access the facility as he did.
Hall is now at a stage at which he is ready to seek treatment for his crystal meth addiction and is excited to soon begin a year of detox and treatment in Prince George.
“It’s time to get my
normal life back on my shoulders,” Hall said.
Gauthier noted one new tenant, Brian Grozell, 69, arrived about five months ago, struggling with his mental health and with living independently. In just a few months, she said, he has engaged in programs and is making progress.
“He’s really thriving,” Gauthier said, noting Grozell had been living in a trailer prior to moving to Rosethorn.
Grozell lauded Rosethorn as he has been able to get three meals a day and noted staff do regular checkups.
Staff have seen the engagement levels in mental-health services rise amongst tenants at a time when such services were impacted by pandemic-related social distancing restrictions.
The CMHA keeps monthly stats on how many of its 42 Rosethorn residents have sought mental-health supports or been involved in street nurse visits — and those numbers have surged during the pandemic.
Achoba said approximately 70 per cent of clients are accessing mental-health supports and 90 per cent are meeting with street nurses who visit in person.
Prior to the pandemic, engagement levels were at about five per cent.
Achoba believes more resident are accessing supports — such as counselling sessions — during the pandemic as they are now offered via video conference, which tenants can do in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.
“I think the pandemic has had two sides to it — one, it showed we need more [mental-health services], but secondly, it brought innovative ways for services to be delivered and people felt comfort having both,” Achoba said.
He noted staff and fellow tenants have also played a huge role in getting residents comfortable addressing their mental-health needs.
Achoba said staff stress to clients that it is OK to have a mental illness and he has seen new residents’ mental health improve by learning life skills from peers who have lived at Rosethorn for a while.
That peer support, Achoba said, is something they hope to build on in 2021.
The Canadian Mental Health Association is marking its 70th annual Mental Health Week from May 3 to May 9.