Edmonton supportive housing complex for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder a Canadian first
'This is what I call home, I've never had anywhere I could call home before now'
"This is home."
"This is what I call home," reiterates Casandra. "I've never had anywhere I could call home before now."
Casandra, sitting comfortably in her central Edmonton apartment, explains she was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
From a young age, she floated through the foster care system in Ontario before coming to Alberta. Not knowing what was going to happen to her she ran away frequently — the streets became familiar to her.
After coming of age, the system moved Casandra into a house.
"It didn't go well. I was evicted and was homeless for like two years," she said. "Being homeless was the worst experience of my life – being hungry, not able to sleep, and always scared."
Now though, Casandra is home.
Through the help of her social worker, Casandra is one of the first residents of Hope Terrace, a supportive housing apartment complex that offers 24-hour support for people born with FASD.
FASD is a lifelong disability that causes birth defects, developmental delays, learning disabilities, memory problems, difficulty communicating feelings and understanding consequences. It is caused when a mother drinks while pregnant.
Hope Terrace had its grand opening Friday, which is also Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day. The building is the first of its kind in the nation.
"When the opportunity to apply to provide supportive housing here at Hope Terrace arose, we knew it was our chance to provide this unique service for people who are struggling with an FASD," said Gary St. Amand, the CEO of Bissell Centre.
"It is the first of its kind in Canada. In that way it really creates an opportunity to provide housing for the folks that are here ,but at the same time to work together and create a model."
There is a critical need for permanent supportive housing in our city that provides the appropriate supports in a harm reduction environment.- Susan McGee
St. Amand hopes that over time Hope Terrace will be replicated in Edmonton and beyond.
The building was purchased and will be operated by Homeward Trust. Susan McGee, Homeward Trust Edmonton's CEO, said that the building couldn't have become a reality without funding help from the city.
"There is a critical need for permanent supportive housing in our city that provides the appropriate supports in a harm reduction environment," said McGee. "Thanks to projects like Hope Terrace and partners like Bissell Centre, we will achieve the goal of ending homelessness in Edmonton."
'Education is so critical'
FASD has profound economic and social impacts on those who live with it and it doesn't seem to be going away.
Around 50,000 Albertans have the disorder and nine in 1,000 babies born will also have it. This year, over 500 babies will be born with FASD. The Alberta government estimates that the disorder annually costs the province $927.5 million.
"This is something that is preventable. That's why education is so critical," said St. Amand.
This is something that is preventable. That's why education is so critical.- Gary St. Amand
For Casandra, the most important part of being in Hope Terrace is being around people who know what she is going though. With help she has been able to find some stability in life and the young woman who was homeless a few short years ago now hopes to go back to school.
"This place has helped a lot because I can go out in the community and not feel like a freak, or I can talk to somebody at a store and not get mad at them," she said.
"I can just go downstairs and talk to somebody that will sit there and listen to me."
With files from John Robertson