The Founder’s Story: by Michael Wilson & Ann Wilson

The Phoenix Society began with our observation that there was a growing number of people in the community whose needs were not being met by the existing systems of care and social arrangements.

And our decision to respond to those unmet needs positioned us as outliers from the traditional systems of treatment for people who were experiencing addiction, homelessness, unemployment and poverty.

Here we discovered joy, courage, laughter, play and resiliency in the face of life’s difficulties and challenges.

World-renowned author and researcher Gareth Morgan – a professor of Organization Studies at York University – might have compared the Phoenix Society to an organism in the desert. We adapted to challenging conditions by growing strong roots of connection with the people we were caring for. We paid careful attention to their lived experience and listened for the meaning that their circumstances held for them. We also heard their aspirations for their future.

We discovered that safety, trust and shared responsibility produced strong ties of connection that led to good results for people who were typically seen as incapable of participating in the community.

These values of safety, trust, and shared responsibility have led us ever since.

When we were able to connect our people with a supportive community of others – along with necessary supports such as access to health care, education to improve employability, safe and affordable housing after treatment, and employment assistance – we saw their situations improve.

Our research and our practice of putting such building blocks in place allowed us to think about our work in terms of individual and community wellbeing. This led us to look for frameworks such as asset development approaches and the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. Demonstrating the successes of these frameworks allowed us to begin to secure resources through a number of cross-sector partnerships. In this way, we were able to build networks of trust with larger systems such as government, financial institutions, universities and the city by demonstrating the success of local, alternative, cost-effective models that improve individual and community wellbeing.

Our cumulative learning has strengthened our collaborative partnerships, and produced tangible results in individual, organizational and community wellbeing.

Our academic work has led us to further inquiry to create a research story big enough to capture the complexity of challenges facing communities around the world.

These successes have enabled us to tell the story of the courage and capabilities that our most vulnerable citizens possess. But it has also has allowed us to change the story of addiction and homelessness as a private, individualized trouble to a public issue. This issue affects us all and requires the attention of citizens and communities alike. We have produced evidence of the success of integrated approaches to complex issues of addiction, declining mental health, homelessness, unemployment and poverty.

Today our organization is recognized for its vision and its contribution to changes in public policy, in institutional set-ups and contributions in the areas of social innovation and community development that has realized our goal of a more inclusive community.

The Phoenix Society’s most important legacy is to be found in the stories of the transformation of lives of individuals, families and communities.