Before moving to Aspen Heights, Garth lived on 20th Street across from St. Paul’s Hospital and had the harrowing experience of his windows being shot out. His landlord told him not to worry because it was from a small caliber gun.
“Being able to move to Aspen Ridge takes such a big load off your shoulders,” he said.
Garth is one of a handful of residents at Aspen Heights who are part of a housing initiative offering safe, good quality affordable homes to persons experiencing mental health challenges. It’s part of a partnership between the NAHC and the Canadian Mental Health Association – Saskatoon.
The housing initiative builds off of the success of the program at Willowview Heights, which partnered with Inclusion Saskatchewan to house people with intellectual disabilities.
Garth says he appreciates the quiet, safety and security that Aspen Heights offers.
“I don’t have to worry about going down the street to get a pop, or worry about my car getting broken into,” he said. “There's a piece of mind; being able to sleep because you feel secure.”
The safety has also allowed him to see his 23-year-old son more often because he has a welcoming place to invite him to. In the 10 months he lived at his previous home, he didn’t have a single visitor because no one wanted to go to the area.
Since he moved in, he’s started new healthy habits like going for walks, which has led to a more positive outlook.
“I’ve changed a lot in the few months I’ve been here,” he said. “When you feel better about yourself, you’re going to get involved more. … Living at the other place, my surroundings coincided with what I put out to people, how I felt and the way I acted, but here I’m more outgoing and talkative.”
Dewey Forsberg: ‘I was just so happy’
When Dewey Forsberg first moved into his new two-bedroom townhouse at Aspen Heights, it was a huge relief, he said.
“I was just so happy,” he says, recalling the day he moved in. “I was like, I'm here. I'm going to be able to afford it. It was just a wonderful feeling.”
When Dewey reached retirement age last year, he moved out of the group home where he had been living and into his own apartment in Blairmore, thinking he’d be able to afford the rent with the supplementary retirement income he was receiving. It was more difficult to cover the rent than he thought, especially when the price of groceries suddenly shot up.
“There’s a lot of people out there in my same situation,” Dewey said. “The biggest downer to your mental health is affordable housing.”
He started suffering from depression when he was a teenager, but it was a taboo topic at that time, so he didn’t ask for help. CMHA-Saskatoon has been a big help in this regard, especially his support worker Ken.
“We meet once a week but we also talk or text almost daily,” Dewey said. “If I do have any problems, he's a guy I can turn to.”
He’s still struggling socially — in the past, he pushed his friends and family away — but his new neighbourhood has created opportunities for him to meet new people. Just the other day, he met a woman at a bus stop who he’s been getting together with for coffee chats.
Eli: ‘It’s very quiet and peaceful’
With Eli, being able to move to Aspen Heights means living in a safer neighbourhood where he can begin to live independently. He’d previously been living in a place near St. Paul’s Hospital, and while it wasn’t a great place, it was his first step to living independently after spending almost a year in a care home.
“It’s very quiet and peaceful compared to where I used to live, and it's actually very beautiful when you go for walks,” he said about his new neighbourhood, Aspen Ridge.
Moving out on his own was difficult at first because he was used to being around people.
“It was lonely but I managed to adapt and got used to it. And then eventually I actually started liking living on my own,” he said. “I like being able to do what I want to do.”
For Eli, that means getting back into the sport he loves. In his home country of Israel, soccer is very popular, and he started playing in his formative years. While it’s been a while since he’s played, there’s a field near his house where he plans on practicing.
Finding housing that is both affordable and allows one to live independently can be a challenge for anyone. When compounding challenges like low income, mental health issues or any other challenges are present, things get even more difficult – especially when Saskatchewan has so few consistent or ongoing support programs for people in these situations.
The NAHC’s housing initiatives have been hugely impactful for those people accessing them and would not be possible without the collaborative participation of other community organizations such as the CMHA – Saskatoon. We hope the successes at Aspen Heights and Willowview Heights allow us to continue to provide more affordable supportive living opportunities like this in the future.
This Affordable & Supportive Independent Living Model for Individuals with Mental Health Challenges project received funding from the Community Housing Transformation Centre (the Centre), however, the views expressed are the personal views of the author and the Centre accepts no responsibility for them.