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A social enterprise

When At Home/Chez Soi was in the planning stages, potential landlords identified some concerns about housing the mentally ill homeless. Issues included worries about bedbugs, disturbances and damage to the suites and homes that would house project participants.

Manitoba Green Retrofit was founded to address these concerns, according to Lucas Stewart, General Manager of the agency.

Among other things, Manitoba Green Retrofit does a pre-move-in check, deals with damage during the person's tenancy and fixes the units after the person has moved out.

"We go into a new unit and take initial photos and have a good look at its condition," says Stewart. "Sometimes there are a lot of deficiencies. We want to make sure each unit meets the basics of safety. We make sure there is a working smoke alarm, working fridge and stove, and doors that are secure."

Manitoba Green Retrofit does approximately 15 turn-overs a month, for people who are being moved out. They return the unit to its original condition, often fixing taps, doors and locks, flooring, windows, cabinetry, patching and painting. This is in addition to emergency repairs done while the person is living in a unit. "MGR is a social enterprise, and we have a mission: poverty reduction. We employ people from the neighbourhoods we're working in. We provide them with the skills to do the job, and be employable elsewhere, if they want to move on," says Stewart.

Manitoba Green Retrofit employs six people full-time plus a few casual employees, and offers competitive prices, so any property manager in the city can hire them to fix housing units. "Right now, we're looking after 170 units in the At Home project," says Stewart, adding he employs At Home/Chez Soi project participants for various jobs. Michael Enright, for example, has worked for MGR, cleaning carpets and helping with a renovation project.

The project also led to the creation of Housing Plus, which provided each housed participant with an "apartment in a box" - new items like beds, chairs, coffee makers and bathroom cleaning supplies. The choice to purchase new items came about to ensure bed bugs were not an issue.

Housing Plus hires services such as SSCOPE and First Nation Sensation to help with cleaning apartments and moving tenants. SSCOPE (Self-Starting Creative Opportunities For People in Employment) is an employment service for people with mental health issues. First Nation Sensation is a new addition, providing moving services.

"The beauty of the At Home project in Winnipeg is that we have so many people employed and trained," says Susan Mulligan, Manager of Housing Plus. "I see this as our gift to the city. Once the project ends, people will have the skills to continue helping the homeless."

Wave: March / April 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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