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Supporting Seniors: Providing housing solutions amid the pandemic

Christina Perlick smiles as she says Joshua Domino “has helped all of us in this house very much.”

“He’s been a companion, a friend, a counsellor,” the senior says lovingly. “He speaks up for us and gives us a voice, he makes us feel safe.”

Joshua is a Mobile Case Planner who serves as a support system for several seniors who reside in a rental home run by Phoenix Society in Abbotsford.

The Sherwood Home serves as a Transitional Housing Program for seniors who are at risk or experiencing homelessness and opened in October of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The home is for moderate to high-functioning individuals over the age of 60 who live with mental health and/or substance use challenges.

Phoenix employees like Joshua provide wrap-around supports for clients including transportation and attendance to medical appointments, emotional supports, and assistance with other basic needs.

Joshua chuckles as he explains that when he began his career in social work, the two demographics he thought he didn’t want to work with were youth and seniors.

“But working with these people, I just fell in love with all of them. Helping them out is very rewarding,” he said of his clients in the home, where up to five individuals live at a time.

Joshua’s role is vast. He helps the seniors with a variety of supports, most commonly health care. That includes driving them to appointments, liaising with doctors, getting clients connected to food bank services, providing basic banking support and much more.

He also connects the seniors with things like optical and eye care needs, and finding ways to pay for things that can be costly (such as dentures).

“One of the individuals has had dentures, but only top dentures, and hadn’t had new ones in 20 years,” Joshua explained. “We found a dentist who agreed to do them for free as the Ministry only pays for a portion.”

Through his work, he’s also helped clients with long-standing issues.

“Another client was getting a routine eye check and they found pressure in his eyes were very high. He had been avoidant about some of his issues, and had already lost vision in one eye.

“He would’ve lost vision in both eyes if he hadn’t received this exam.”

Joshua also connects clients with Nurse Practitioners at the Abbotsford Community Hub that Phoenix Society is based out of.

He says it’s been particularly rewarding to provide these supports during the pandemic to individuals who are very susceptible to serious complications or death if they were to contract COVID-19.

“I am worried about my clients and them getting COVID. I always make sure I’m very safe, follow the rules, wear gloves and a mask. If one of them were to get COVID, all of them would get it, and we don’t want to lose people.”

Joshua says he feels blessed to be able to help people in his role.

“Growing up, my plan was to go into the medical field and I didn’t enjoy the work, it just wasn’t for me.”

“But I knew I wanted something helping people. Even just helping people out of altruism, that’s one of the things I follow – helping without expecting anything back,” he explained.

“Being here it’s been the opposite. In social work they tell you expect a job where you’re not thanked. But here, I’m getting thanked every day.”

During the pandemic, Phoenix Society opened several other houses to support marginalized and vulnerable individuals.

One of these was a ‘Stabilization House’ for men that opened in Surrey in July 2020. The licensed program provides shared accommodation for up to six weeks for men who are experiencing problematic substances use, often in active withdrawal or having recently completed a detox program. It serves as a place to land when people are awaiting or contemplating a treatment program.

Phoenix Society also opened two rental houses in Surrey in 2020; One for men and one for women, to respond to the housing crisis and to provide additional housing options for individuals we serve as they move along the continuum.