Ottawa

Mediation program for Ottawa Community Housing tenants out of money

A conflict resolution pilot project at three Ottawa Community Housing locations is running out of money despite its success in helping residents resolve their problems without formal intervention.

Helping Ourselves empowers residents to resolve their own conflicts before police get involved

Christine Robillard says the Helping Ourselves program helped break down communication barriers between participants at the Hampton Court community. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

A conflict resolution pilot project at three Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) locations is running out of money despite its success in helping residents resolve their problems without formal intervention.

Project manager Harry Webne-Behrman said the program, called Helping Ourselves, is a low-cost example of how mediation could become part of the larger conversation about defunding the police and redirecting that money into community-based social programs.

So many disputes that arise and escalate and then become violent could be ... intervened upon at an earlier stage.- Harry Webne-Behrman, Community Mediation Ottawa

"We're working with [residents] to help them name the sources of the [disagreement] and giving them strategies for being able to address those ... directly and constructively," he said.

"We're improving their confidence in being able to manage it."

Helping Ourselves, which is operated by Community Mediation Ottawa, has hosted workshops and conference calls for about 40 residents at three OCH buildings — Hampton Court, 450 Laurier Ave. W. and Russell Gardens.

The program has helped address disputes ranging from noise complaints to use of common areas and issues with building management. Residents participate in workshops where they learn communication techniques through role-playing and other activities, then share those new skills with their neighbours.

With 250 units, Hampton Court is one of the city's largest seniors' apartment complexes run by Ottawa Community Housing. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Money runs out Tuesday

Webne-Behrman said mediation and skill development programs like Helping Ourselves can help de-escalate disputes before police become involved.

"So many disputes that arise and escalate and then become violent could be ... intervened upon at an earlier stage," Webne-Behrman said.

WATCH: How it encourages de-escalation

Harry Webne-Behrman, program coordinator for Community Mediation Ottawa, says the program has given residents the ability to deal with conflicts without resorting to more significant intervention from authorities. 1:14

The pilot, funded through an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, cost $75,000 in 2019 and has relied on additional funding from the Ottawa Community Foundation and OCH for the past six months. That money runs out June 30.

OCH did not have statistics on whether the program has resulted in a reduction in calls to police or bylaw, but the public housing agency has nevertheless deemed it a success because it's given participants confidence to resolve issues with their neighbours.

Harry Webne-Behrman is a mediator and program coordinator for Community Mediation Ottawa. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Christine Robillard, a participant in the program at Hampton Court, said it's had a positive impact on her community, especially as more residents with diverse backgrounds move into the seniors' housing complex.

"He teaches us to listen to each other before we blurt out, and how to communicate. It doesn't matter the language barriers," Robillard said.

'We really need this'

Robillard said she hopes the program will get the funding it needs to continue.

"We really, really need this," she said.

Brian Gilligan, vice-president of tenant and community support at OCH, said the agency will be looking to find new funding partners to continue and perhaps even expand the program. 

Webne-Behrman said more stable funding for a community mediation centre in Ottawa could be a long-term solution,

Right now, the non-profit Community Mediation Ottawa is run out of the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution at St. Paul University, and has one full-time staffer who manages a team of nearly 60 volunteers, helping mediate disputes and train police and bylaw officers in de-escalating conflict.

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