Wellness and Recovery in Housing Support – Part 4 of 4

I have a very personal connection to wellness and recovery as it relates to mental illness. If you haven’t read my older blog on living with depression, you can read it here. Or if you want to watch my video blog on mental illness and stereotypes that emerged in the wake of Sandy Hook, you can watch that here.

Because I have a personal connection to wellness and recovery, I suppose it should come as no surprise that it is one of my favorite areas to provide training to housing case managers, and to help homeless serving agencies truly understand and embrace. This is a four-part blog that examines wellness and recovery in the process of supporting people in housing, and working to prevent homelessness from happening again to that person/family.

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In Part Four of this blog series on Wellness and Recovery, I focus on what we would expect people in housing that are experiencing recovery to say they are seeking from their housing support worker, and what is appreciated most from their housing support worker. These are generalizations, realizing that each person that experiences recovery does so differently and may have different priorities in their recovery process.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but there is a large expectation that a housing support worker will help the person that is homeless and starting on the journey to recovery to help them find appropriate accommodation. Choice is a really important consideration in this process. Part of empowerment is having a voice in where one wants to live, and the reasons why they may select one place over another. This is true even in communities that have high rents and lower vacancy rates. Anything that prolongs homelessness (for example, “I will house you after you have demonstrated that you can take your meds for four weeks straight”) is the antithesis of recovery. Recovery does not come with compliance expectations imposed by others.

In the support process, people on the journey to recovery expect their housing case manager to help them get connected to appropriate community resources. There is not an expectation that the housing case manager is an expert in all matters of mental illness. More harm than good can definitely arise when a housing case manager extends beyond their expertise.

Housing support workers can expect to work with their client in recovery to prepare a crisis plan soon after being housed. This may be part of a Wellness Recovery Action Plan or a stand-alone item. The housing support worker is a case manager, not a crisis worker. It is important that these roles do not get confused. In addition, having a crisis plan empowers the individual being supported to have a voice on their wishes in the event of a crisis rather than things just being done unto them.

Generally, people in recovery have some expectations that extend across all support workers, not just a housing support worker. These include the following:

  • that they will be seen as a whole person, not just a person with a mental illness;
  • that labels will not be used to describe a person (for example, Bob is a person with schizophrenia, he is not a schizophrenic);
  • to have understandable language used when talking about all support and care matters – medical, housing or otherwise;
  • having an active voice in all decisions (Nothing about us without us is a common phrase in the consumer survivor movement);
  • belief that people with a mental illness can and do recover;
  • a responsiveness to each person as an individual as opposed to a generalizing that somehow all people that experience a mental illness – even with the same diagnosis – are exactly the same;
  • a conversation about how each person reacts/behaves/communicates when they are not feeling well, and when this likely is an indication that further medical assistance is required instead of just having an “off” day;
  • an appreciation of strengths and skills that they already have, so that those strengths can form the foundation of where to start working on recovery (instead of only examining deficits).

The more that housing support workers can do to understand recovery and its application, the better those with compromised mental wellness can be served. This can include specific training on how to practice a recovery-oriented Housing First or Rapid Re-housing service. A focus on recovery can be the difference between long-term housing stability and a revolving door into homelessness and long periods of hospitalization.

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About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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