CALGARY- Sue Fortune sits at the kitchen table of one of her clients, Chris. He serves a glass of chilled orange juice and pulls up a chair so the two of them can share a moment of catching up and there is a lot of good news to catch up on.
Chris tells Fortune he has found part-time work and is reconnecting with his family. It wasn’t that long ago this conversation wouldn’t have been able to take place. Chris was homeless and battled mental health issues but that all changed thanks to a program Fortune has helped lead to success.
Fortune is Director of Pathways to Housing, which offers long-term housing and community support for vulnerable Calgarians who suffer from a major mental illness and who have experienced homelessness. It is the first housing first model in the Calgary area, which means the focus is on finding a safe stable home first, then assisting people with challenges such as mental health or addictions issues. Under Fortune’s guidance, the program has grown from serving 60 clients to now being able to help 200.
“There is such a need to service people that are experiencing homelessness or repeated hospitalizations, repeated incarcerations due to their illness. House them, and provide them with the intensive support so that they can find housing stability and psychiatric recovery,” says Fortune.
The success of the Pathways program, according to Fortune, is evident in the numbers, which show a clear reduction in costs to society. “The average person, experiencing homelessness in Calgary, is costing the system approximately 100,000 dollars. In the work that we do at Pathways, I can provide rent subsidy, damage deposit, furnish the apartment and provide the services of a multi-disciplinary team, all for approximately 30,000.”
More importantly, it is a program that can change the lives of people who are often forgotten in our society, those who end up in the cycle of jails and hospitalization. “When you have a severe and persistent mental illness, it’s a very difficult thing to deal with. It’s difficult to deal with just on a personal level, but the discrimination and the stigma that’s attached to that, as well.”
Fortune has also initiated some of the specialized programs within Pathways, such as introducing a family peer support specialist. “It has helped reintegrate families and loved ones and has really made a difference and we just hosted the first People’s Pow-Wow for aboriginal people who suffer from mental illness and addiction.”
Fortune has always worked in the areas of human and social services, and while it can be challenging on a personal level because of the seriousness of the issues people are dealing with, it’s also satisfying knowing she’s making a difference.
And for the approximately 3000 people, still considered homeless in the Calgary area, Fortune plans to continue to help, one person at a time. “My vision, although maybe it’s not lofty, I think it’s attainable…and I think, really is within our reach.”