Harm Reduction and Housing Research

At the Victoria Cool Aid Society we believe strongly in the effectiveness of housing first, which means that we are better able to help people overcome the issues that caused them to experience homelessness once they have a safe, supportive home to live in.

Harm reduction is an essential part of housing first. Harm reduction means keeping people safe and acting to reduce the harmful impacts of substance use, including death, disease, injury, and trauma. For example, relapses are a common aspect of addiction recovery. With the harm reduction approach, residents are provided with counseling and support to overcome cravings and, if necessary, avoid harmful behaviours during a relapse by using clean, safe medical equipment, by being in a safe place where emergency help is readily available, and biomedical waste can be sanitarily disposed of. Victoria Cool Aid Society supportive housing buildings commonly offer clean medical supplies and safe disposal containers, as well as 24/7 counseling and support.

The housing first approach and harm reduction can seem counter-intuitive to those who are unfamiliar with the experience of addictions and homelessness.

When learning about this approach for the first time it is helpful to remember that not just at Cool Aid, but throughout Canada and internationally, there is a well-established body of evidence from both service providers and experts that housing first is the best practice in helping people overcome homelessness, especially when homelessness and addictions overlap.

Below are links to information and research on how housing first works and what it is, from local to international:

Below are links to information and research specifically about harm reduction, a vital component of the housing first model.

Seniors Inspire Local Legend


If you already know about Olympic Vista and the talented seniors living there, you might already know about Yvonne and the amazing song she wrote for their jam sessions. You can watch her perform it with fellow tenants Tony (in orange) and Louis (in the wheelchair) and Cool Aid seniors programmer Robert Dunsmuir (in the back), or click here to listen to the original recording of Yvonne’s My Arms Are Empty Without You.

You can also read the original web story right here.

The original recording made its way through the grapevine to local blues legend Bill Johnson. Bill liked it so much that he recorded a full studio version with the Bill Johnson Band!

BJ BandClick here to listen to the incredible Bill Johnson Band performing My Arms Are Empty Without You.

We would like to send a huge thanks to Bill Johnson and his band for making this possible. It means a great deal to Yvonne and the other seniors who have overcome personal tragedy, stigma, and homelessness and achieved a high quality of life at Olympic Vista.

This was all possible in part thanks to the generous support of BC Housing, Island Health and the Victoria Foundation, providing funding for Cool Aid’s Seniors Recreation Worker, Rob Dunsmuir to host regular weekly activities and special seasonal outings year-round at Cool Aid’s three supportive housing facilities dedicated to seniors.

Mount Edwards FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions are below.

Victoria Cool Aid Society builds homes, lives and community. We create opportunities for people who are homeless or living in poverty. We make a difference through housing, health care, support and emergency shelters. Founded in 1968, Cool Aid helps 10,000 people in the Capital Region every year, at 16 locations in Langford, Victoria and Saanich – including 12 supportive housing apartment buildings. The Society’s major campaign is “Help End Homelessness”, to build an additional 360 apartments for people in the community who have no home.

The Mount Edwards property at 1002 Vancouver Street is well designed for the purpose – and currently houses 38 individuals on the main floor. Other features include a dining area, lounge, offices for support staff and a large interior courtyard.

The FAQ below (Frequently Asked Questions) has been prepared to answer some of the most common questions we hear about Mount Edwards Court.

Contact information can be found below should you want to speak to someone from Cool Aid or are interested in a tour of existing Mount Edwards or other Cool Aid programs; an opportunity to meet our staff and tenants.


FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Click on a question to read the answer.

Who Lives at Mount Edwards Court?

What About Mental Illness, Drugs and Addictions?

Aren’t Neighbourhood Impacts Unacceptable?

What About Neighbourhood Consultation and Rezoning?


Answers to Questions


Question:
Who lives in these apartments?

Answer: The profile of residents in Mount Edwards is very similar to the existing profile of residents served in all of Cool Aid’s other ten supportive housing buildings: 70% male and 30% female; about 40% between 19 and 39 years old, 47% between 40 and 55 years, and 13% over 55.

All people housed in Mount Edwards Court have been previously homeless.

The 38 small apartments are intended for a wide variety of needs and ages, including mental health conditions, addictions, head injuries and fetal alcohol syndrome for men and women who have been homeless and require housing and support services.

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Question: What are your screening criteria for Mount Edwards residents?

Answer: The screening process is a complex one that includes:

  • the use of a vulnerability assessment tool
  • interviewing the prospective tenants
  • talking with our staff, other service providers and helping professionals who know the candidates, and
  • weighing their suitability for the current mix of residents and the neighbourhood

The goal is to create a mix of residents that is balanced and manageable, while providing a high level of support for those who need it.

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Question: Why don’t you do Criminal Record checks on prospective tenants? How can you ensure that sex offenders are screened out?

In British Columbia, landlords and property managers acting on their behalf must adhere to the privacy rules contained in the BC Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”). These guidelines are intended to assist landlords and property managers in discharging their duties under the Residential Tenancy Act (“RTA”) in a manner that respects the privacy of tenants and promotes transparency in the operation of landlord and tenant relationships.

A landlord cannot as a condition of renting or providing any service to a tenant, ask for consent to collect personal information beyond what is necessary to provide tenancy or that service. Requiring a criminal records check is not reasonably necessary.

Sex offenders are on strict orders that prohibit them from being in areas where children are in close proximity. They must report their address to their probation / parole officer who would preclude them from residing at Mount Edwards; or indeed any apartment building in close proximity to a school.

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Question: How will you find permanent homes for the people now living in Mount Edwards Court, when there are so few vacant apartments in Victoria and considering how expensive they are?

Answer: This question underscores the fact that there are currently not enough affordable rentals in the Capital Region. In the long term, the solution is continued construction of permanent affordable and supportive housing by all levels of government.

In the short term, Cool Aid is committed to finding permanent homes for the residents living in Mount Edwards Court. We do this by moving some of the residents who need a higher level of support into our other eleven apartment buildings, some into apartments operated by other non-profit organizations, and some into regular “market” apartments by subsidizing their rental costs and providing on-site support as needed. As of March 2017, 18 residents had been moved out of Mount Edwards into permanent housing.

Cool Aid’s long-term goal is, with community support, to build 360 more supportive housing apartments to help address this critical community need. Mount Edwards apartments were the first.

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Question: Are guests allowed at Mount Edwards Court?

Answer: Cool Aid does not allow guests into the building to ensure that residents feel safe in their homes.

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Question: I know a lot of street people have pets. Do you allow pets at Mount Edwards Court or any of your other eleven apartment buildings?

Answer: Pets are very important to people who have been homeless which is why most Cool Aid properties, including Mount Edwards, welcome our clients’ pets.

In fact, one of Cool Aid’s supporters is the Sooke Animal Food and Rescue Society (SAFARS), whose donors provide a significant amount of food for pets who are living with Cool Aid clients.

As well, Cool Aid has set up a “Pets In Need Endowment” at the Victoria Foundation to help our clients with some of their pet expenses, such as operations, thanks to a generous bequest in his will from the late Carl Young.

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Question: Are the people living at Mount Edwards Court employed?

Answer: It might surprise neighbours to learn that a significant number of people who live in Cool Aid housing, including Mount Edwards, have regular jobs, as well as casual work. (This is also true of people staying in emergency shelters, like Rock Bay Landing and Sandy Merriman House.)

As well, Cool Aid has a longstanding policy of providing employment training opportunities for residents who want to gain some skills and earn a bit of money. Their janitorial contributions help build community and pride within the apartment buildings as well as providing new skills.

Other Cool Aid programs also provide employment training and placement opportunities for our residents and other clients:

  • Cool Aid’s Community Casual Labour Pool provides a free placement service for employers and casual workers who are available, trained and ready to work, including home owners who need help gardening, moving or with other needs.
  • The Downtown Community Centre, operated by Cool Aid at 755 Pandora Avenue near City Hall, provides employment training opportunities, lifeskills courses and healthy recreation opportunities for our residents and others. The free Community Kitchen program, for example, provides training in nutrition, food purchasing, preparation and storage, and leads to a Food Safe certification for participants.

The Beacon Services-Cool Aid Thrift Shop at 715 Pandora Avenue provides Cool Aid clients with employment training opportunities in retail operations as well as an inexpensive place to purchase clothing, household goods and other needed essentials.

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Question: What are the expected outcomes for your residents?

Answer: Cool Aid’s agreement with the Province is quite clear about the expected outcomes for our residents. We are required to find permanent housing and any necessary supports that are needed for our Mount Edwards residents and help them move out. During that process, Cool Aid supports them in a variety of ways to improve their wellbeing, including help in locating employment, addiction treatment and improved health care.

As of March 2017, 18 of our Mount Edwards residents have been successfully moved into permanent housing elsewhere.

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Question: Does Cool Aid have any measurable results or evidence to show that your programs and services are successful?

Yes, Cool Aid utilizes a Balanced Scorecard methodology to measure our progress towards meeting our strategic objectives and reports out annually to the community. Cool Aid has also been featured in local and national research as an example of best practices in supportive housing.

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Question:
Is it true that low barrier housing has been found to be detrimental to drug addiction recovery?

Answer: Perhaps counter-intuitively, the opposite has in fact been found. Insisting that people become “clean” before providing them with safe and secure housing simply keeps people homeless for longer – leading to more problems in neighbourhoods and more cost to taxpayers.

What works better is harm reduction and housing first, where people are accepted no matter what their condition, helped to stabilize in housing, and then encouraged to work on whatever challenges have caused them to become homeless.

Moving forward, people who have problematic substance use challenges will not be allowed into Mount Edwards Court, including intravenous (IV) drug users.

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Question:
Are there policies requiring residents to take prescribed medication for mental health conditions, and if so is this enforced through supervision?

Answer: One of the important roles that our round-the-clock Housing Support Workers provide is medication monitoring. As well, they interact with tenants every day to ensure that they are doing well and have all the support they need. When outside services are required, such as an ambulance, they are called in.

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Question:
Will there be a safe injection site at Mount Edward?

Answer: No. There will be no drop-in services at the Mount Edward Court. Services are for residents only. Residents using intravenous (IV) drugs will not be allowed to move into the building.

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Question:
It sounds dangerous to house people with mental illness and addictions right beside Cathedral School. What assurances can you give that our children will not be harmed?

Answer: Sometimes when Cool Aid proposes a new apartment building neighbours are fearful. They often think that supportive housing looks like an emergency shelter or drop-in service where there can be spillover effects onto the sidewalk. Once we open and neighbours discover that the building is well managed and the residents well supported, there are very few problems or complaints. Check out the locations of our 16 facilities on this map.

Mount Edwards Court has been operating in the neighbourhood for over a year, since February 2016, with very little impact to the neighbourhood.

Cool Aid’s own properties on the 700-block of Pandora Avenue provide an excellent example of how supportive housing can work well with neighbours, businesses and children nearby. 112 Cool Aid residents are housed on the block (including eight residents 19 years or younger).

The Downtown Community Centre is located immediately below/adjacent to 85 apartments for both adults and youth under 19 years.

Every weekday during the school year, groups of daycare providers rent the Community Centre’s gymnasium space for their preschool children to enjoy. As you can see from this letter from a daycare provider, this has been working well for over 20 years for both the preschoolers and Cool Aid residents who benefit from their positive energy and encourage each other to be respectful and positive. To quote the daycare provider from her letter:

“Never in this time [20 years] have I or my children ever felt intimidated by the residents/clients of the facilities. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The residents/clients take great delight in watching the children and sometimes interacting with them – always with care and politeness and only after we have spoken first. I encourage the children to talk to everyone and if too shy to at least smile. The older children now recognize some of the longer time residents/clients and run up to say hi or show a special treasure they have. I really think this benefits the children and the residents/clients.”

Leagh Lawrence, Pedal Pusher Daycare

Additionally, for many years, the site was a host of the Out of the Rain youth shelter, for youth 19 years or younger who are homeless.

Cool Aid would be pleased to tour you through one of our sites, including Mount Edwards Court, so you can see for yourself how well a staffed supportive housing building fits into a neighbourhood even with child and youth services on site.

For tour bookings or information, please call Alan Rycroft at 250-414-4781 or email arycroft@CoolAid.org.

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Question: Isn’t it true that Mount Edwards is a social experiment, providing supportive housing for such a large group beside an elementary school?

Answer: Mount Edwards Court is not a “social experiment”. There are numerous similiar projects located adjacent to schools in the Lower Mainland including Mole Hill & Lord Roberts Annex and Biltmore & Nightingale, which you can read about by clicking on the links.

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Question:
How many staff are supporting the residents and neighbourhood at Mount Edwards Court?

Answer: Staffing levels are very high for just 38 residents and the neighbourhood.

Three professional resident support workers is the minimum staffing level at the site – even during the middle of the night!

There is also a full-time Client Support Worker dedicated to assisting residents with their goal planning, such as finding work, a permanent home and healthcare. Additionally there are visiting professionals such as nurses during weekdays. Finally, there is janitorial/maintenance staff and meals are being prepared off-site at our Swift House kitchen. Mount Edwards has much higher staffing levels than Pandora Avenue, where we have successfully housed 112 residents for years with youth and child-serving programs on site every single day, including weekends.

We invite you to speak with our staff at Mount Edwards Court, or any other location, anytime. You can call Mount Edwards any hour of the day at 778-265-3456.

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Questions: What are your expectations of the residents?

Answers: At Mount Edwards Court, there is a dedicated staff person who works with the residents on developing and implementing their own personal plans for community integration. This could include, for example, goals and strategies to find permanent housing, employment, addiction treatment and improved health care.

Different people have different levels of success in improving their situation and resolving challenges.

At minimum, Cool Aid requires that all residents behave in appropriate ways both in the building and the neighbourhood. Any resident that is unable to be a good neighbour will be asked and assisted to help change any antisocial behaviours. If they are unsuccessful, the person may be moved to another building or evicted if necessary.

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Question: Is there a process for neighbourhood input and consultation?

Answer: See below (question about zoning).

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Question:
Anyone who makes a modification to their home has to go through rezoning before proceeding. Why is the Province being allowed to do whatever they want in this building without a required rezoning?

Answer: By law, the Province has the right to avoid municipal zoning regulations.

However, the Province, the City of Victoria and Cool Aid have all publicly committed to a public rezoning process for Mount Edwards Court. For information on current zoning matters, please visit the main Mount Edwards Court web page.

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Additional Mount Edwards Information:

Mount Edwards main page

Housing First Research summary

Call Mount Edwards staff:  778-265-3456

Tours or more info about Cool Aid: Alan Rycroft, arycroft@CoolAid.org, 250-414-4781

Additional Housing Campaign Information

Help End Homeless campaign to house 360 people

Relevant definitions