New Brunswick

After a lifetime on streets or in jail, one man rescued by new kind of housing

A new housing program in Moncton that serves people who are living on the streets and struggling with mental illness and addiction is proving to be a success for some of the city's "chronically homeless."

Paul Emmons's life changed after Moncton's Salvus Clinic offered him an apartment

Paul Emmons, seen here with Salvus Clinic executive director Dr. Susan Crouse, believes that without the peer support housing model he would be back in jail or on the streets. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

On the last day of November, Paul Emmons, 47, will celebrate his one-year-anniversary of getting out of the jail in Shediac.

This is the longest stretch of time in his adult life that he hasn't been behind bars.

He credits Dr. Susan Crouse, executive director, physician and co-founder of Moncton's Salvus Clinic, with helping him stay off the streets and off drugs.

It blows my mind sometimes when I come home to actually say I got a home — I can eat when I want to eat, I can sit down and watch TV or listen to music. It's beyond words.- Paul Emmons

"This place here, it took a whole weight off my shoulders," Emmons said of the apartment building he now lives in. "I was getting frustrated sleeping on the streets."

Emmons is one of 18 tenants in a new type of housing being offered by the Salvus Clinic, which serves people who are homeless and struggling with mental illness or addiction.

It's a model Crouse calls "peer-supported housing" and she says it is the first of its kind in the country.

The Salvus Clinic manages three, six-unit buildings in Moncton and offers safe, clean, one-bedroom apartments, along with intensive support, exclusively to tenants who are "chronically homeless."

"We worked with a local landlord to create a small apartment unit … and we put a peer in place in the housing unit and since we've done that the people in those units have been very successful in their housing," Crouse said.

That "peer" is the building superintendent, who shares a history of homelessness, mental illness or addiction with the five tenants. 

'We really don't want to evict people'

The homeless people who are finding success in these apartment buildings have often been evicted from regular apartment buildings because they made mistakes such as being too loud, or inviting too many people over.

This six-unit apartment building in Moncton is one of three buildings the Salvus Clinic is operating as a supportive housing unit. The model offers people who struggle with substance abuse and mental illness a one-bedroom apartment and regular support from Salvus Clinic staff and a superintendent. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

However, in this model, Crouse said, since all of the tenants have challenges, there is no expectation that they will be perfect.

"We're always looking for solutions to any kind of problems that might arise ... so we're quite creative in how we handle issues in the buildings and we really don't want to evict people."

New housing model life-changing

Emmons grew up in Dartmouth and by the age of 15 was an alcoholic. He also became addicted to opiates and crack cocaine, which he calls "monsters," and came to Moncton for a drug rehabilitation program at Harvest House.

When he left Harvest House, he went back to drugs and drinking.

"I've been in and out of Shediac [jail] numerous times since I've been down here."

Emmons said finding a warm place to sleep when you're living on the streets is difficult, and he spent many nights in hospital bathrooms in Moncton.

"I'd wait until visits are over for the evening and I'd get up into a part of the hospital where there was nobody, and I'd go to a bathroom, lay down, and go to sleep," he said.

"There's times I slept in Victoria Park and I slept with a big machete I got from a buddy of mine because I don't know no one down here, and I don't feel like getting jumped."

Since moving into his apartment with the Salvus Clinic, Emmons said he no longer uses illegal drugs, and no longer steals to feed his addictions.

Vanessa Blanch tells us about a peer support housing model that could be part of the solution to the growing problem of homelessness in New Brunswick. 9:28

Emmons now receives social assistance. With the subsidized apartment and help from the local food bank, he is able to support himself.

A recent visit from his mother made him realize how much his life has changed.

"She came down here thinking … I'm just going to be in a low rental, shabby shack place, but she was quite amazed and quite proud of how the buildings are kept here and I said, 'Mom, I don't want to lose it for nothing,' and she said, 'No, don't you lose it for nothing.'"

Supports are key to success

One of Emmons neighbours has become his girlfriend, and he said in addition to regular visits from the staff of the Salvus Clinic, she has been a huge support.

If I didn't have her helping me, in the beginning when I first came here, I probably would have went back to jail.- Paul Emmons

"We make meals together, so our food stretches us longer," Emmons said. "She buys $120 worth of meat, I buy $120 worth of meat, and we get a bag of potatoes each and make meals together.

"If I didn't have her helping me, in the beginning when I first came here, I probably would have went back to jail."

Crouse said thanks to the building superintendents and support workers at the Salvus Clinic, the apartments have had 100 per cent occupancy and no one has been kicked out and sent back to the streets.

'It blows my mind sometimes'

Emmons is now able to concentrate on a future that doesn't include prison or drugs, and he has handed out resumés to a couple of contractors in hopes of landing a job.

"It blows my mind sometimes when I come home to actually say I got a home — that I got a roof over my head and I can come home and I can eat when I want to eat, I can sit down and watch TV or listen to music. It's beyond words,"

He said he will always be in debt to Crouse and the staff at the Salvus Clinic because when he needed help, they were there.

Emmons will soon be celebrating his one-year-anniversary of getting out of jail, and his one-year-anniversary of having an apartment of his own. He says 'it blows his mind sometimes' when he realizes he has a home. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Model could be part of solution

Crouse has spoken to representatives from both the federal government and New Brunswick's Department of Social Development about how this housing model could be replicated and offered across the country as part of an affordable housing program.

"I think the biggest thing about working with this kind of clientele is that it is a fairly intensive service that we have to provide," she said.

Moncton's homeless are struggling to find an affordable place to live with many vacant buildings that were once rooming houses boarded up or torn down and shelters over capacity. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

"It's actually cheaper to provide the support services and the housing for those individuals rather than have them cycle in through hospitals and jails … plus it gives them a better quality of life."

For Crouse, the biggest hurdle is to persuade the government to adjust budgets and move money from one department to another. For instance, she would like to see government "transferring [funds] out of corrections and into social housing."

Moncton city council is planning to provide funding to the Salvus Clinic as part of its 2019 budget. Council approved $25,000 for the organization in principle earlier in November. 

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for nearly 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please e-mail: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

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