When Jenny, UGM’s Housing Community Builder, accepted a contract to develop community amongst UGM’s Affordable Housing residents, she was met with mixed responses—some residents excited about the prospect, and some uncertain about the benefits.
Undeterred, Jenny saw an opportunity to combat the isolation and loneliness that many residents faced. “People had been wanting to build their social life, but just didn’t know how,” she explains. “They needed an opportunity, a medium where they could get to know their neighbours.”
Jenny’s love of the Downtown Eastside began in childhood as she witnessed her grandparents lovingly care for the tenants of an SRO building they owned. “My grandparents set a legacy in our family for really loving the DTES, having compassion for people, and understanding that every person has a story,” she explains. Following their footsteps, Jenny’s family has been managing the building since 2010—prioritizing connecting with the residents in meaningful ways.
I see it as UGM investing in not just getting people off the street, but getting them into a real life.
When the prospect of developing a similar community with UGM’s Affordable Housing residents arose, she jumped at the opportunity to work with people already committed to lives of recovery.
“It was so exciting to bring these programs in for people so they are able to continue their journey,” Jenny says. “Not just get put into housing and then close their door and sit there and be scared they’re going to relapse. We wanted them to have opportunities to build a community, to build a life.”
Since the spring, Jenny has empowered residents to plan and run various activity groups that promote interaction, growth, and of course, community. People responded enthusiastically, beginning activities like morning coffee club, knitting club, grocery shopping groups, and movie nights.
Life-giving relationships are a key part of success in maintaining sobriety, giving someone support as they work to navigate a new way of living. Jenny is thrilled by the progress and hopes it continues long after her formal contract closes. “I see it as UGM investing in not just getting people off the street, but getting them into a real life. Helping them to have a life that they love,” she says.
“We’re not meant to live in isolation. We’re meant to live in community and family, and I think they’re building a family.”