Stella’s Circle: Increasing Housing Units for Marginalized Population Groups – Community Housing Transformation Centre – Centre de transformation du logement communautaire
6 Aug, 2020

Stella’s Circle: Increasing Housing Units for Marginalized Population Groups

By Sabine Friesinger

$50,000 from Sector Transformation Fund – Local Projects  

The Centre is pleased to support our first transformational project in Newfoundland! Acknowledging the uniqueness of individuals is not only paramount to social work practice, but also to the mosaic of a healthy, diverse society. In principle, and often in practice, the community housing sector recognizes that different populations require adapted services. However, when one operates from a mainstream mind frame, identifying complex housing needs, and remediating transitional shortfalls, requires a methodical lens to prevent oppressed and repressed people falling through the cracks. Planning to add 21 new housing units to their affordable housing portfolio, St. John’s Stella’s Circle sought out to first identify the people in most dire need.

About Stella’s Circle

Stella’s Circle is named in honour of Dr. Stella Burry, a pioneering Social Worker and United Church Deaconess. She introduced a community development approach to St. John’s and in 1945 founded Emmanuel House to provide food, shelter, friendship, and counselling.

Today, Stella’s Circle offers housing, counselling, and employment services to people who face barriers such as mental illness, homelessness, addictions, criminal justice involvement, poverty, long periods of unemployment, illiteracy, etc. The organization believes in recovery and self-determination. Their mission is to transform lives through Real Homes, Real Work and Real Help.

Real Homes

The organization offers housing programs, including operating the Brian Martin Housing Resource Centre that offers counselling, advocacy, and other support services to help people find secure housing. There are also various housing services, including an intensive case management program, the Naomi Centre which is an emergency shelter that offers safe and supportive temporary housing for young women, and 79 units of permanent supportive housing.

Real Work

Through their Employment Services Division, Stella’s Circle offers various programs, including Adult Basic Education, work experience through job development and various employment groups. They also operate three social enterprises: the Hungry Heart Café,  Clean Start, a commercial cleaning business, to provide people with work experience, and Home To Stay, their newest social enterprise, which is designed to assist seniors to age in the community, it also provides practical workplace-based learning in the field of home modifications for seniors.

Real Help

Within their counselling services, they offer a residential counselling program (Emmanuel House), Just Us Women’s Centre (programming for criminalized women both in the community and in a women’s correctional facility), and a Community Support Program which works with adults with complex mental health needs.

Stella’s Circle has been recognized nationally for its work, including the recipient of a Mental Health Champion Award and a Canada Volunteers Award (Atlantic Region) for social innovation.

The Project in Detail

Stella’s Circle sees its objective to increase housing consistent with the environmental context. Over the past few years, the organization has noticed gaps for certain populations.

“The project is a needs analysis. The organization will engage a consultant to determine the best way to adapt their existing housing stock as well as add new units to meet the needs of underserved populations here in NL. They have some idea of who those populations are but want some help to refine their focus and formulate a strategy,” specifies Hope Jamieson, Program Manager – Newfoundland & Labrador.

A number of populations that may particularly need to have specific housing have already been identified:

Seniors with complex mental health issues: NL has the oldest population in the country and there is a great strain on housing for the aging senior, particularly those with complex mental health needs. After extensive research work in partnership with researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland around the seniors with complex mental health issues aging in place rather than prematurely being placed in personal care or long-term care facilities, Stella’s Circle recognizes that the need for appropriate housing and support for this demographic is lacking.

Criminalized women being released from correctional facilities: Stella’s Circle also operates the Just Us Women’s Centre, which works with criminalized women at a Correctional Facility, and in the community. There is no half-way house for women in the province, and often, women who exit the only women’s prison (located 200 km from St. John’s) are without safe housing options. Their connection with this population, and the lack of options for criminalized women, when there are options for criminalized men, make this a social justice issue.

People with mental health issues: Within the province of NL, there is a plan to close the existing mental health hospital (Waterford Hospital) and replace it with a new facility which has fewer beds. This means there will be a greater need than currently exists for housing for people with mental health issues.

The funding for the business plan will help Stella’s Circle determine its next steps in increasing their affordable housing portfolio.

Impact on the Community Housing Sector

This project will have sustainable and long-term impact on the organization, community, and sector by offering permanent, supportive housing to individuals who are typically difficult to house and currently have very little specific options.

“Our experience at Stella’s Circle tells us that supportive housing is a springboard to social inclusion and stability in our community. Tenants who live in our housing units are able to participate in activities that increase their engagement and decrease their isolation. Once stably housed, many tenants are ready to explore the next steps for their independence as well, such as education upgrades and employment skills training,” says Lisa Browne, CEO, Stella’s Circle.

The final strategic plan indicates the goal of increasing their housing units from 79 to 100. Once the options have been reviewed, Stella’s Circle will then determine the next steps in moving forward in terms of the infrastructure—possibly applying for funding through CMHC.

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