British Columbia

'It's not the place for me': Kelowna man adjusts to social housing from life on street

Two months ago Pierre Gervais left Kelowna's Gospel Mission shelter in the city's downtown core to move into the newly opened Heath House supportive housing complex, located on busy Highway 97, the main traffic route cutting through the Okanagan city.

Pierre Gervais now lives at Heath House after 18 months on Kelowna's streets

Pierre Gervais pays $375 a month for his single room apartment in the Heath House supportive housing complex in Kelowna. (Michaële Perron-Langlais/CBC)

Two months ago, Pierre Gervais left Kelowna's Gospel Mission shelter in the city's downtown core to move into the newly opened Heath House supportive housing complex, located on busy Highway 97, the main traffic route cutting through the Okanagan city.

Gervais, 56, is among the first 40 tenants of the B.C. Housing facility, managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which offers previously homeless men and women round-the-clock services such as meal programs, life and employment skills training and health and wellness supports.

However, several weeks into his stay, Gervais does not feel quite at home.

'It's not the place for me'

"It's not the place for me," said Gervais as he entered his single room on the second floor of the former motel building. "I gotta tell you the truth. It's not the place for me. 

"I live with some people doing drugs. Yesterday people were screaming about missing something. They kick the doors, they kick the walls and when you hear that at four in the morning, you wake up."

Gervais pays $375 a month for his one room, furnished apartment with a double bed, dresser, television and table. 

His bathroom has a toilet and a shower but no sink.

And although he admits he enjoys the comforts of having his own space to relax while he reads books or watches sports on T.V after months living rough on the streets, he's disappointed with the tiny kitchenette in his room, which he says is inadequate for his needs.

"I've cooked in quite a few places. I've cooked in Paris, I've cooked in Switzerland. But this? " he said pointing at the small counter with a single hot plate and microwave oven. 

"I like to cook. It's really important for me to eat."

Pierre Gervais' single room apartment has a kitchenette with a sink, microwave and hot plate for cooking. (Michaële Perron-Langlais/CBC)

Gervais is also adjusting to being far from downtown. It's a 30-minute bus ride from Heath House to the city centre where many of his friends and work opportunities are. 

"I try to do the best I can [but] I am looking for a new place," he said.

A difficult transition for some 

The challenge Gervais is facing adjusting to his new living situation is actually to be expected for many people who have lived on the streets, said Jason McCarty, who manages Heath House for CMHA.

"The transition is more difficult than we all would realize where we think, 'Oh, they must be so relieved to not be sleeping on the street and they have a home,''' McCarty said. 

"For some it is like that. But for others it's not so simple."

Despite the adjustment challenges, overall, the first few weeks at Heath House have gone smoothly, McCarty said, adding that for the first time in a long time the residents are no longer just trying to survive.

"It's safer than being on the street and there's support," he said.

"We try and create a home. We try and build relationships with them and community in such a way where they at least can feel like this is their home."

However living in a room at a supportive housing building lacks family supports and a real sense of home for some residents, McCarty said.

Many tenants are also dealing with challenges that contributed to them living on the streets in the first place — mental health issues, substance use, developmental issues and poverty. 

For Pierre Gervias, he's beginning to see his apartment at Heath House as an important building block to a better life of more independence.

"I going to keep going," he said. "That's the best thing that we can do in the world, keep going."

Wilth files from the CBC's Sarah Penton

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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