Safe and affordable

Chiara House aims to provide dignified housing for people struggling with mental illness

Chiara House, located at 490 Maryland St. in the West End, will be a supportive living space for those with mental illnesses. “There needs to be a mixed dynamic so people can support each other mutually,” says Jamie Arpin-Ricci (inset), pastor of Little Flowers Community. Dylan Hewlett
Jamie Arpin-Ricci, pastor of Little Flowers Community. Supplied

Two Winnipeg-based organizations are banding together to renovate an apartment building in Winnipeg’s West End to create affordable, dignified housing for people living with mental illness.

The apartment, located at 490 Maryland St., is called Chiara House, and it is an initiative of Little Flowers Community and Mennonite Church Manitoba.

When it opens, the building will feature three floors: one for people living with mental illness, another for Christians committed to Scripture study and shared meals, and one for anyone who needs an affordable place to live.

“One floor of Chiara House will be dedicated to the intentional community,” said Jamie Arpin-Ricci, pastor of Little Flowers Community. “Members will choose to share life together more intentionally than roommates - it allows growth in our spiritual efforts.”

With the help of the intentional community and other tenants, Arpin-Ricci hopes to create supportive living space for residents who have been diagnosed with mental illness.

“There needs to be a mixed dynamic so people can support each other mutually,” he said.

Mary-Jo Bolton, clinical director of counseling services at Klinic, agrees.

“That approach is more effective than setting up a group home,” she said. “We all benefit when our communities are diverse, where people of all abilities and circumstances feel like they belong.”

Eden Health Care Services operates an acute psychiatric care centre in Winkler. The provincial government funds the core services and the organization plans to prepare staff and residents of Chiara House for the challenges presented by living with people with mental illness.

“We hope to bring some expertise to the program. It’s an extension of their mission,” said James Friesen, CEO of Eden Health Care Services. “We are supporting their work in relation to the experience we’ve had around mental health issues.”

Friesen explained the organization will educate staff and residents, and help them become familiar with resources they can consult should a crisis arise.

“Personal safety will be highlighted as something in everyone’s interest,” he said. “We are focused on developing processes and procedures, being proactive rather than simply reacting to situations.”

According to Arpin-Ricci, the initiative addresses mental health issues in Winnipeg’s West End by providing housing that is safe and affordable.

“Poor housing conditions contribute to poor mental health,” he said.

Bolton explained that while this may be the case, it is difficult to determine causality.

“Unstable housing, that’s an incredible stress on a person’s ability to manage life,” she explained. “On the other hand, someone who has a mental illness might not be able to keep a job and pay for housing and they lose their housing as a result.”

Those who live in the house, outside of the intentional community, do not have to practice Christianity, Arpin-Ricci said.

“Our initiative is not a bait and switch technique,” he said. “We would not do that to someone with mental health issues. They can be vulnerable and we would never take advantage of that.”

Renovations will be complete after the spring.

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Published in Volume 66, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 1, 2012)

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