Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sad farewell to client and friend killed while doing her job

I read with terrible sadness today that a client, or more properly an employee of a client had been murdered at work, alone in her office killed by a knife-wielding man.  A 47 year old tenant has been charged with murder.  Larisa Belekova worked as manager of several rooming houses, providing accommodation and support to persons with mental health, addiction and poverty issues.

I have a lot of supportive and transitional housing clients who house tenants with mental illness. I'm often afraid for them...most supportive housing workers are young woman, men as well, often under-paid and often working with little support or security. I don't blame my clients, they simply aren't given the funding.  They do the best they can with what they have.

Ontario has celebrated 35 years of de-institutionalizaton of people with mental illness. The plan called for community living, part of which was to provide social housing but with a support component, most often called supportive housing.  Usually the funds to pay support workers and services comes from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, with rent subsidies coming from the province but more recently from municipalities.  In this case it was an agency, Habitat Services, who provided the tenants, and the support funding.  But the money under all levels of government has been woefully inadequate. Supportive housing landlords receive only a fraction of what they need to deal with the multiple concurrent disorders faced by their tenants, often living in cramped conditions, usually shared accommodation and with minimal support. Staff are not doctors, nurses, psychologists, clinicians of any sort. Theoretically there are support services that housing staff can connect tenants with, and they do, but at the end of the day, it's up to the tenant whether or not to take their meds or to accept support services.  

Supportive housing programs house those who are the hardest to house, often taking referrals without being given any knowledge of the prospective tenant's history of mental illness, criminal convictions, sexual assaults etc.  Referral agencies often have an ideological bent where they don't want to know the tenant's history, they just want to see him or her housed.  Evictions when tenants become violent or dangerous are next to impossible. For that, blame the Residential Tenancies Act, the Landlord and Tenant Board and Legal Aid Ontario. The police are also complicit, often ignoring their obligation to "keep the peace", and suggesting to landlords "it's a landlord and tenant issues, go to the Landlord and Tenant Board".

My heart goes out to Larisa's family. I met her daughter a couple of years ago, a lovely young woman. She was thinking about going into the legal field. My hope is that Larisa's brutal murder will wake up governments to the inadequacy of facilities and funding for those with mental illness, and to the danger housing staff face every day working in impossible conditions.

No comments: