Champion of Dunbar Village
In December 2011 Dunbar Apartments opened its doors. Operated by Coast Mental Health, this supported housing program provides affordable housing for 51 residents to engage in recovery while gaining life skills and independence, which assists them towards self-sufficient living when they feel ready to take the next step.
Coast Mental Health advocates, supports and promotes recovery of persons with mental illness to nearly 1,200 residents and operates more than 30 housing developments throughout the Lower Mainland in partnership with the federal and provincial governments and other funding partners. Coast Mental Health workers (with exemplary level standing by Accreditation Canada) provide support to residents.
The client dynamics derive from varying referral sources which include Mental Health Housing (VCH), BC Housing, Jewish Family Service Agency and St. Georges Place Society which include services specifically tailored to clients with mental health, co-occurring issues, physical health and mobility issues or at risk of or currently homeless.
Tamara is the manager of Dunbar Apartments and has held this position since March 2014. She is employed by Coast Mental Health and has been with the organization for 15 years.
She reports, “It is extremely rewarding to play a role in helping people engage in recovery, be empowered and gain confidence to make informed decisions and take control of their lives as they see fit.”
Speiran and a team of seven mental health workers, a cook and building operator are employed round the clock. While staff support them, residents are expected to be self-sufficient.
Dunbar Apartments offers a cooperative and stigma-free environment with a strong sense of community and mutual support. Residents receive supper daily. Breakfast is provided three times per week through private donations. They live in private self-contained suites and are offered subsidized rent in a secure building.
Clayton Ablett, branch manager of Dunbar’s Vancity branch has glowing feed-back about the housing complex.
“Our partnership with Dunbar Apartments and in particular with Tamara Speiran, who has welcomed us with open arms, has been an extremely rewarding experience for all of us. Her dedication to her work is undeniable and a driving force for us to work more closely with her and the residents. She has been instrumental in helping her community overcome barriers and stigmas with mental health while staying agile and adaptable in her daily work.”
Vancity has been extremely supportive of the housing program. Speiran points out the credit union has made donations to Dunbar Apartments. They have also run financial literacy programs providing information about taxes, credits and money management. Following this program residents receive a certificate of completion. In addition, Vancity offers space at the credit union seasonally for residents to sell beautiful artwork and crafts including birdhouses and fresh wreaths.
Ablett explains, “A core aspect of who we are at Vancity is our ability to meet people where they are and to engage in meaningful conversations with them. Our aligned goals and values with Dunbar Apartments have played a crucial role in our successful collaboration. By joining forces, we aim to bring people together and build healthy communities.”
The average length of residence is 1.8 years, which Speiran reports is a remarkable success rate.
Some leave for health complexity reasons, a few for behavioural issues and the majority elect to leave feeling empowered and ready to take the next step toward independent living. Coast Mental Health helps them prepare and connects them with subsidized housing through organizations such as BC Housing and other non-profits.
Part of the success of this type of housing is resident involvement. The residents at Dunbar Apartments support and understand one another, resulting in community spirit. They value their home and have input via a suggestion box and tenant meetings facilitated by Speiran. The lack of pressure to move until residents feel prepared is also of great benefit.
The residents of Dunbar Apartments feel extremely grateful to have their home located in such a beautiful and central location. Many residents have become friends with local merchants. They enjoy the local shops, easy access to bus routes and the proximity to nature including Camosun bog and trails in Pacific Spirit Regional Park and nearby beaches.
Speiran says the most satisfying part of her job is to see the evidence of success with people engaged in their recovery and gain greater independence. She says with pride, “If they want to be an astronaut we support those dreams.”
Coast Dunbar Apartments
3595 W 17th Avenue
Vancouver BC V6S 0B2