Samaritan Place

Samaritan Place

In early spring I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronell Boswell, Samaritan Place manager, in the Community Space. Ronell spoke about Samaritan Place, the different programs that they run, her role as the manager and the work she and her team does.

Ronell has been at Island Crisis Care Society for 14 years. “It is an organization that I really felt comfortable with and that is aligned with my values in life” Ronell says. “I worked in different women shelters so when I got the position at Samaritan House, working with women, it was really something that I was looking forward to.” she adds.

Samaritan Place has 51 supportive housing units. These are individual housing units where people pay rent and it is considered permanent housing. People can move on into market housing if they choose to or they can stay here because they might be more successful in having the support that the program offers.

Then there is Bridge to Housing, the women’s emergency shelter with 14 beds. It is located on the second floor. The beds are for anybody in need of a safe place. “We can take people off the street or through referrals. People usually stay here for 30 days. If they need more time or they work on a plan to stabilize themselves, are part of Project Rise, are educating themselves to move into a work position or are taking care of mental health and are in counselling, we can extend their stay up to 90 days or longer,” Ronell explains.

“Some people have been here for six months to get on their feet before they move forward. But we do get people that might just come in for a day for respite, to have a bath, a shower, a meal, wash their laundry and then they’re on their way again,” Ronell adds.

There are two staff that are part of the Bridge to Housing program and then another two staff that are part of Supportive Housing. There is also a kitchen coordinator, a weekend cook, a custodian and two case workers that work Monday to Friday. “They try to connect with everybody in Supportive Housing to see how we can support them and help them to maintain their housing. They connect our clients with supports in the community. They do a case plan with them,” Ronell explains the role of the case workers.

“The support workers also try to work with people, support them with basic needs, help them clean rooms, declutter.“ We do weekly, monthly, and quarterly room checks with our supportive housing team because we want to make sure that people get the support they need. We do health and safety checks. There are a lot of people with high medical needs. We have people in active addiction or with mental health challenges, and sometimes all three combined.” Ronell explains.

Samaritan Place also has a kitchen coordinator who is providing regular meals in a cafeteria style setting. “Our main goal for supportive housing is to keep people housed and to connect them to supports so that they feel that they’re not alone,” Ronell says.

Focus, specifically at Samaritan’s Place, is on bringing supports from the outside in. Health Matters, a free clinic offered by Island Health, comes in once a month. There are ministry workers coming in to help with income assistance. In addition, there is a chaplain who visits regularly and the Bethany Church group comes to support women at Samaritan Place.

Then there is ICCS’s LifeSkills program coordinator who comes in regularly to teach life skills to residents.

A lunch program is provided at Samaritan Place. Supportive housing only provides breakfast and dinner, and residents can cook in their own units. But a lot of the residents do not have the skills to cook. Some have been on the street for many years. The lunch program fills this gap.

“We also have programming that we provide to clients such as game nights and bingo nights and foot care through our volunteer program,” Ronell says.

Asked about her role as the manager at Samaritan Place, Ronell explains: “It’s hard. At this point, I’m overseeing 34 staff. So yes, just the admin part is a lot to keep track of. To make sure there are enough people, that people take time off, that they use their stats and their vacation properly. I also try to check in one on one with them to find out what they need. We are an amazing team here and people are really going above and beyond.”

“Sometimes I feel like a chameleon on a smarty box. It’s like, what is my role now? Most importantly, I make sure people have what they need, making sure it’s a safe environment for all. I want to empower clients and make them feel that we care, and that they are important, and to give them hope. I feel if we cannot give people hope anymore, then we fail. Empathy and care are our focus. It is important to make people feel welcome. It’s wonderful to see how people connect with their community and family members again, or how they connect with the grandkids, or how they feel they have a purpose in life again, or they get a job,” Ronell says.

Through Island Health, there are two home support workers located on the third floor at Samaritan Place. They currently help 19 clients that need extra support. The support workers are there for 16 hours a day. They help clients do laundry, they take meals upstairs, they help clients shower.

Then there is the PCO team based out of the Island Health medical van. They come once a week so anybody who doesn’t have a doctor can come and get some support. The CCH program is a wraparound program with a doctor, a psychiatrist, social worker and occupational therapist involved. This complex care team from VIHA is supporting 10 people at this point. Their offices are on the second floor at Samaritan Place.

“We have weekly meetings with the coordinators of these teams to make sure we are all on the same page. We’re in it together. We are all here for the same reasons. We are here to support people. We want to make sure people stay alive. We want to make sure people stay healthy and housed and we want to make sure they get the support they need. I think we make a difference in people’s lives,” Ronell says.

“I really appreciate each of my team members. They are all amazing. I told somebody the other day, none of us is perfect who works here. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but when we come together, and we fill the gaps and become a perfect circle. And that’s how we became a perfect team,” she adds.

Ronell clearly is a wonderful leader who deeply cares about the people she works with. “These people are so resilient and they go above and beyond. Just dealing with things that we’ve never dealt with. We had nine deaths last year. Some are young support workers; they are resilient and care for each other and how the team comes together when we are in these challenges is remarkable,” She says, adding “it’s intense, but it is rewarding. I just pray that we can make a difference in people’s lives.”

The assistant manager, Carolyn, oversees client care together with two support workers. As much as Ronell loves to work with clients, one on one with the residents, she really doesn’t get that much time anymore. “But I run through the building every morning to say hi,” She says with a smile.

Ronell , Carolyn and both case workers are trained to do VAT’s, vulnerable assessment tool training. For this process, the case workers meet with clients regularly to do their case plan. They take them to community supports. They help them with food, with their rent payments, getting to any support, counselling services, medical appointments etc.

Ronell also sits on the acute response table. That is a group that started in the city of Nanaimo. It is for people that are at risk of losing their housing, for those that have no more options. Everybody from each important program in Nanaimo is at that table as well as the RCMP and somebody from the city. “We bring certain cases forward and we say this is a person that we feel is going to lose their housing or this person is vulnerable. And then we brainstorm. So twice a month, I’m on this acute response table,” Ronell says and explains further, “then there is the Nanaimo placement committee to get into supportive housing. There is a meeting once a month from all the supportive housing programs or buildings. We look at the most vulnerable clients and where there are openings to house them.”

The Samaritan Place manager also deeply cares about the wider community. “I’m also on the CAC Team for the neighbourhood. Once a month we have a zoom meeting with the RCMP, the city and our neighbours. I think that communication part is so important to bring to the table and to explain what we are doing here and that we are taking care of our neighborhood, too,” she adds.

Ronell is part of the ICCS OHS team, the occupational health and safety committee that meets once a month. They look at health and safety risks and make sure they attend to any concerns and put in preventative measures.

Reflecting on her role as a manager, Ronell says “I’ve trained as a social worker. Manager wasn’t in my goals for the future, but I mean, it’s also made me grow. You know, I must make decisions standing on my feet. I have to delegate. In a program that constantly expands and gets bigger and more complex, I need to delegate. So I learned a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses. I learned the importance of empowering people.”