Building Managers at Horizon Housing help tenants feel at home

On paper, Jess Kennedy may seem like a typical building manager for an apartment complex – keeping the hallways clean, conducting regular building maintenance, handling security, collecting rent – but in reality he is anything but.

He is also a friend.

“I’ve gotten to know the people here and their routines,” Kennedy says. “Sometimes they’ll come into my office to talk when they just need someone to listen. And if I don’t see someone for a couple days, I’ll knock on their door to see how they’re doing.”

Bob, a tenant at the building, can attest to Kennedy’s compassion. “I know he will make sure I’m okay.”

Kennedy manages Bob Ward Residence, a Horizon Housing Society affordable housing building for tenants with a variety of needs – mental health challenges, physical disabilities, families and seniors living below the poverty line, and the working poor.

The number of Canadians experiencing mental health challenges who also require affordable housing is almost double that of the general population. Of Horizon Housing’s 700-plus tenants, 34 per cent are referred by Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region.

There is a great need for more of this type of housing, especially in Calgary, the epicentre of Alberta’s homelessness.

Horizon Housing has over 15 partnerships with other community agencies who refer tenants from all different backgrounds, and provide support to them. This diversity and tenant mix helps lessen negative perceptions associated with any one particular group while also promoting community integration.

“They’re people, just like the rest of us,” Kennedy says. “They need somewhere safe to live that they can afford – but there’s still that stigma attached.”

And reducing this stigma is something Horizon Housing does exceedingly well with its mixed-used housing model.

This is the same concept that will be implemented in Horizon Housing’s 160-unit RESOLVE building which it plans to co-develop on a parcel of land owned by Silvera for Seniors, a fellow RESOLVE Partner.

Kennedy feels like part of the Horizon Housing community and attends all of the various tenant barbeques, celebrations and other events.

“People come here and, at first, are down in the dumps,” Kennedy says. “But over time they start to gain confidence and feel better. They start to smile. And that’s inspiring.”

Mental Health Week takes place May 4-10, 2015.

Over time they start to gain confidence and feel better. They start to smile. And that’s inspiring.