The executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Kamloops branch says nearly 70 guests at Moira House have been able to move into stable housing since the recovery-focused shelter opened.
Alfred Achoba appeared before Kamloops city council’s safety and security select committee on Thursday to discuss the non-profit’s work.
He said Moira House is a first-of-its kind shelter where abstinence isn’t a requirement, but residents must be willing to work toward recovery and are supported to achieve their goals by on-site staff.
“Since Moira House opened, we've been able to successfully move 69 individuals into long-term stable housing, whether that is treatment support or other forms of transitional housing,” Achoba said.
The Kingston Avenue shelter, located near the Halston Bridge in North Kamloops, opened in the spring of 2022. It has 41 single-room occupancy units.
“As much as it’s treated as [a] shelter, the expectation is that it is treated with a housing-first lens," Achoba told the committee.
"And so while you're there, we can help you find employment, we can prep you to be more successful once you move into your own housing."
Alongside Moira House, the non-profit operates the Emerald Centre shelter and Merit Place — which Achoba describes as its “lowest barrier” shelter. CMHA Kamloops also runs supportive housing facilities Rosethorn House and Genesis Place.
“Rather than having so much turnover in our shelter, we're using the shelters we have now as stepping stones into more successful transition,” Achoba said.
However, the executive director said one of the challenges facing the organization is the city’s limited housing supply. In CMHA’s programs alone, they have 50 to 60 people on waitlists for housing.
“That's just supportive housing — that doesn't include seniors housing, market housing, or any other form of housing that we provide,” he said.
There also isn’t enough shelter space, with Achoba adding staff has to turn away, on average, 40 to 44 people daily from shelters.
Achoba said the non-profit faces other challenges, including NIMBY-ism, government red tape, staffing, the impacts of the opioid crisis, handling “complex behaviours” due to drugs and mental health issues, and a deterioration of health support.
“We’ve been trying to leverage as much support from the local partners we have here,” Achoba said.
“I think across the Interior region we've seen that support decrease, partly due to the challenges the health authorities too are experiencing when it comes to filling some of the most crucial gaps that we're seeing in the healthcare system.”
However, Achoba said they have been able to secure street nurses to visit some shelters, and are working to offer practicum placements in order to address staffing needs.
A community integration liaison has been brought on to work with people seeking shelter at Merit Place.
“Her role is to work with some of the most challenging clients we're seeing across our community, and making sure that they can come into our programs, get the support, and at least see some type of progress being made,” Achoba said.
He also acknowledged judgements levelled their way by some in Kamloops, noting people are quick to point fingers, but collaboration is needed to solve these challenges, adding it “takes a community to get the results we all want to see.”
“We would like to see more support in a positive way, and there are different ways to do it. Come to our programs, come and experience what it's like to work in a shelter, but also come and speak to the clients, to hear from them,” Achoba said.
“Until you do that, you can't really grasp the magnitude of the challenges people are facing, but also the need for us to do better as a community.”
He said society needs to understand non-profits have been historically used to fill gaps due to underfunding and other levels of government not playing the role they should be.
"We're here to serve Kamloops to the best of our ability, and we will never stop doing that," Achoba said.
"Because I think that's a role we're expected to play. When I get calls from moms about their kids and the exposure they're having towards the drug crisis, I feel bad — I feel genuinely bad that more needs to be done."
Coun. Kelly Hall, chair of the committee, thanked Achoba for the work he’s doing in the community.
“I couldn't agree with you more, the words you're talking about with respect to community — it’s a community challenge, and it's going to take a community to continue to work together at some of the challenges we’re faced with on an ongoing basis," Hall said.