Special care homes want to be part of solution for hundreds of homeless people
Special care home operators in New Brunswick believe they could help at least some of the hundreds of people living on the streets as winter approaches.
In the Moncton area alone, there are 400 homeless people. At the same time, Dieppe's Alouette Special Care Home has 15 vacant rooms, according to administrator Elizabeth McLay.
"There has to be 15 people out of 400 that could at least stay here temporarily while they get back on their feet," McLay said.
With a housing shortage, rising rents and a growing wait list for a subsidized N.B. Housing unit, McLay and other special care home operators believe they have a solution that could work for some.
In New Brunswick, there are about 6,000 beds in 400 special care homes, and between 700 and 800 vacancies, said Jan Seely, president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association.
Special care homes are licensed by the Department of Social Development, and offer level two care, which includes 24-hour assistance or supervision.
They charge about $100 per day or nearly $3,000 per month. In many cases the Department of Social Development foots all or part of the bill.
Seely said each home focuses on a particular type of clientele with about a third specializing in helping people with mental health disorders, intellectual disabilities or addiction recovery.
'It's a complete transformation'
At the Alouette Special Care Home, residents receive meals, laundry, housekeeping, medication management, transportation and even haircuts.
But McLay said the most important support offered is access to a social worker and an in-house doctor. Some of her residents have come from shelters, and she has seen them transform their lives.
"People that move in here are in crisis. A lot of times they're really not doing well," she said, adding that staff see residents improve within weeks.
"They get back on their medications. And all their basics are covered for them," said McLay, with some eventually looking for part-time jobs and moving into apartments of their own.
"It's a complete transformation."
McLay believes that special care homes could be playing an even larger role when it comes to getting people off the streets.
Danielle Gallant has also seen success stories play out at the special care home she operates in uptown Saint John. Most days, she packs a lunch for 11 of her 16 residents who head out to jobs or to take part in community programs.
Laura Manor is a three-storey Victorian home with 16 private rooms. Gallant specializes in supporting people with addictions, mental health challenges and intellectual disabilities.
Her residents range in age from 19 to 76.
"The way I look at it is we are all different shapes and sizes," she said. "For the homes that are capable and able and willing, as long as there's a plan in place and a person is recovering, we could help."
Gallant and her staff are excited for one of their residents, who is preparing to move to another province to return to living with his family.
"It's pretty awesome," she said. "We're making sure that when he moves to that area that there's things in place for him and the resources are there for him when he goes there to continue his recovery."
Pilot project needed
With a growing number of homeless people, and a need for supportive housing, Seely, McLay and Gallant believe the New Brunswick government should take a close look at how special care homes can help.
Seely wants to see a "robust pilot project" that would start with consulting people who are living on the streets.
"I think that would be a remarkable endeavour," she said. "When you really go to the people that are actually the ones that are experiencing these hardships, then you're going to know [what they need]."
She believes that by meeting with people who are in crisis, staff with the Department of Social Development and partners like special care homes could "try and build a basket of services" around them.
McLay said the biggest obstacle to admitting people who are living on the streets or in the shelters is a lack of addictions support for those who are in recovery.
"The thing that would absolutely help us the most to help those people is some sort of addictions counselling," she said. "If we just had that service for those people, it might prevent us from having to evict them."
McLay recently had to evict several residents who were using drugs. The heartbreaking part is they "end up back on the streets where they came from," she said.
"Like that really makes my staff cry when that happens."
She would like to see the province provide funding so special care homes could afford to hire an addictions counselor, or make a counsellor available to homes like hers on a weekly basis.
"I know that that would be the difference right now between us being full and the 15 empty rooms."
Gallant suggests the Department of Social Development sit down with special care home operators to talk about how more people could move in on a temporary basis as the winter approaches.
"The whole plan would be to get them back out on their own," she said.
Seely has seen examples of special care homes being a good fit for many who would otherwise be unable to care for themselves independently.
"I know of a gentleman that went to a special care home in the evening and got a shower, got a healthy meal...had a good night's sleep, got up in the morning, had breakfast and then left for the day and that helped that person for a few months, so that's out-of-the-box thinking but it worked."
Province not talking
CBC News contacted the Department of Social Development, which regulates and licenses special care homes, about what efforts are being made to match people on the streets with available spaces.
No one was made available to speak on the issue.
"Special care homes in the province are privately owned and operated," spokesperson Rebecca Howland said in an email. "I recommend you either reach out to the facilities directly or the New Brunswick Special Care Homes Association."
Asked for greater detail, Howland said the department "is not aware of any such initiatives at this time."
She said people experiencing homelessness "have complex needs," and "the role of the Department of Social Development regarding special care homes is to be the regulator authority, issue licences and conduct inspections to ensure residents remain safe and are provided with the best care and services possible."
Care homes want to be part of solution
Seely said "it's not a giant leap" to see that special care homes could be part of the solution to homelessness.
"We've got some rock stars in this province that have just a natural skill and ability to be able to lift up and support those people … so it's certainly possible."
Seely emphasized that the cost of having a person stay in a special care home does not have to be permanent — and is less than the cost of caring for someone in hospital or jail.
"We work every day to try and enhance people's abilities and surround them with services and care so that we can help them to be the best version of themselves. So why can't we do that on a temporary basis?"