Program encourages independent living

By Angelina Irinici, The Star Phoenix July 31, 2013 - Self-rewarding is the word Ray Neale uses to describe the feeling of being part of an organization that’s been helping people for 50 years. When the Saskatoon Housing Authority (SHA) first started in 1963 (it just celebrated its 50th anniversary last week), it made 110 homes available to those in need. That number has jumped to over 2,600 housing units for about 5,200 residents today. Neale, who started with the authority 32 years ago and has been the general manger for the last two, says that the authority is about more than putting a roof over the residents’ heads.

“That’s always our responsibility to the people we deal with, The staff here is all invested; it’s what keeps a person here for a long time.”

SHA is an agency of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation and manages two programs (Social Housing and Affordable Housing) that provide housing to those with a low to moderate income. Rent is on a month-to-month basis, and it can increase or decrease depending on the residents’ income.

Priority for housing is based on an assessed need. The program focuses on the importance of having residents live independently, whether they’re seniors, families, couples or individuals.

“It’s all about people that need an advantage — a break in their rent to get on their feet, get an education, get a better job and move on their way and make room for someone else to take advantage of the program,” says Neale.

When it comes to seniors, SHA offers a number of programs and events in the buildings to keep residents social, active and educated. Things like bingo nights, catered meals and live music all involve residents — something that is part of SHA’s social mechanism.

“We try to be a facilitator and get them out and volunteer. We help them put (events) together and engage them and get them active and involved.”

Residents like Ernest Friesen take full advantage and like spending time with friends met through the events. He and his wife, Rose, have been involved with the SHA for 20 years.

In 1995, Ernest received a liver transplant. Although the surgery was successful, he wasn’t able to work full-time. He was already close to retirement, and since he couldn’t work, he and Rose needed a less expensive home. The couple applied to the SHA, and after about three months they had secured a unit downtown, where they lived for nine years.

After a visit to another building, Clinkskill Manor, they liked the bright, spacious rooms and asked for a transfer. Within a week they were living there, and they’ve remained for almost 10 years. Ernest says he appreciates the building’s social aspect.

“It’s like living in a small town.”

Ernest was the chairperson of the tenant council at both buildings before the councils were eliminated. Although he doesn’t hold an official title now, he has become the go-to person in the building. Whether it’s helping at the building barbecue or consoling another resident, people at Clinkskill tend to gravitate toward the sharp and outgoing man.

“It becomes a super community if everybody wants to become involved. You have to do something,” says Ernest. “For me, life is short as it is already — you’ve got to do something while you have the chance.”

Clinkskill Manor is ideal for the Friesens; Ernest enjoys going for walks along the river or heading out to the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. He meets friends for coffee each week, and appreciates the building manager, who he says has a gift for dealing with people.

“If we didn’t have this, where would all these people be? … We know that we have a place here,” says Ernest.

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