Unlocking the door to better housing for people with mental illness

You wouldn’t know it driving down residential Moonlight Avenue, in Sudbury, Ontario, that there are people living in a group home setting with mental illness. This recovery housing initiative resulted in a beautiful house that anyone would be proud to call home.

“Like any new surroundings, it will take some time to adjust, but I am very happy here,” says Christine, one of six tenants in the home.

This newly adopted concept has taken one large step forward leaving behind the stigmatized antiquated system of mental health housing we most of us are familiar with.

The project took close to 18 months to complete, but in June 2013, the Moonlight Avenue residence unlocked its doors to its first two tenants. The house can accommodate up to eight tenants, with full occupancy expected to be achieved within the next month as tenants and staff get familiar with the newly renovated home and housing model.

This transformational housing project provides supported group living for eight individuals. The home utilizes a peer support staffing model. Peer Support Workers are those who have experienced mental illness and who offer recovery-based support using their own experience to provide one-to-one aid.

Ten years ago, Christine, originally from Sudbury, was a full-time midwife, living in Cornwall. She was newly separated and was caring for her two boys, she pictured working very hard for the next 30 years as a midwife, a profession she adored, when suddenly, everything changed; Christine lost everything.

This was the beginning of a long eight year journey to a final diagnosis of schizophrenia with bi-polar tendencies. For years, Christine had lived a very productive life with no indication that she would one day live with a mental illness. She spent close to a year in hospital receiving treatment for her mental illness in North Bay and Sudbury.

This home for Christine is the beginning of a new chapter. “I have to appreciate what I have right now, and learn how to live this new life.” While in hospital, the ability to be independent is not as easy as you might think.  Many things are scheduled such as meals, outings, activities and appointments, often times leaving the decision making and critical thinking involved with planning a day to others. This home, leaves Christine to make decisions when it comes to personal healthcare, budget, meal preparation, and recreation.  Although independent in many aspects of her daily living, there is always support available. “The dream of having your own means never goes away, no matter how sick you are.”

“My hope is always to live on my own, but in the meantime, this home makes me feel proud to say I live here.”  Something she thought she would never say. Christine see’s this as an opportunity to let others know that a mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. Statistics prove that one in four people in northern Ontario will experience mental illness at one point in their lives.

Her family visits her regularly in her new surroundings and take comfort in knowing she is in a beautiful home, with the support she needs and a model of care that will contribute to building her life over again.

“No one can reassure me that I will not lose everything again. I will always be sick.”  People living with a mental illness need to manage this fear every day of their lives.  A diagnosis that is sometimes hard to deal with. “A mental illness does not declare its arrival, it has no warning signs, and for those reasons, I can’t see myself practicing midwifery and putting others at risk.”  For now, Christine is taking everyday as it comes.   Her priority for today is becoming the healthiest person she can be.

The North Bay Regional Health Centre partners with the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction – Sudbury/Manitoulin and Northern Initiative for Social Action in providing new and sustainable housing to mental health consumers. The hope is to be able to bring this new model of housing to other areas within the northeast region so that everyone in the communities we serve can benefit from this new innovative way of caring for those with a mental illness who are ready to live independently with the support of peers.