PSH Feature: Iris Court; Schizophrenia Society of Alberta

“Imagine a radio playing in your head, and it never shuts off.”

“Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects 300,000 Canadians.    …Interfering with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others, schizophrenia impairs a person’s ability to function to their potential when it is not treated. Unfortunately, no single, simple course of schizophrenia treatment exists.”  Psychosis is a common system of schizophrenia, which is defined as the experience of loss of contact with reality and usually involves hallucinations and delusions.  (Definition from: Schizophrenia Society of Canada)

Unfortunately, some behaviors related to this illness can threaten a person’s ability to keep their apartment or stay housed.  Yelling out loud to nobody…  Acting strangely…  Seeing things that aren’t there…  Delusions and Hallucinations that you act on sometimes.  Most landlords are not in a position to be understanding and/or provide supports.  And without access to adequate supportive housing, many folks with Schizophrenia end up on the street, greatly worsening their situation.

That’s where a place like Iris Court is critically important.  Iris Court provides home to twenty-one tenants diagnosed with this persistent mental illness.  Two staff are on site 24×7 to support tenants and help them retain their housing.  They will help with programming, ensure the safety of residents, and if a person is having a really bad, they have someone to call.

Iris Court is somewhat unique as it is a lodge style Permanent Supportive Housing.  So tenants do not have a private apartment with their own kitchen and living area.  They have a fully furnished bedroom and an ensuite, but everywhere else is shared space.  The on-site kitchen provides three meals a day and snacks.  Food, linen and cleaning supplies are also provided, so all a tenant needs to provide are personal clothing and personal care items.

There are no clinical supports or treatment provided by on-site staff.  If a tenant wants or needs medication supports, they are set up with these by Homecare.

One of the challenges many of the tenants of Iris Court face is that their networks of community, supports and relationships are often more in the City’s core neighbourhoods.  This is particularly true of people finding home there after living on the street.  Some don’t want to live on the south side.  It’s a big change.

However, the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood has proven to be a good place for people to grow and access local community supports.  There is a Pharmacy and a local doctor’s office close by to look after tenant needs.  They also have easy walking access to the local swimming pool, the Library, a Bowling alley, Grocery store, Mall, and Church communities.

Within Iris court, they do much to engage both tenants and their families.  They host a family advisory council to talk about quality of life and what can be improved.  The last Tuesday of every month they also host a multi-tenant meeting, which serves as a place to address concerns, and to generate new ideas.    Out of that grew a social committee, which has helped organize events (with a little staff support), arranged for a Karaoke machine, and did some thinking about pets.   Very soon, they will be getting a dog!


What does success look like? 
Everyone’s story is a little different.
When one tenant came to Iris Court, he was unable to leave the building out of anxiety and fear of people and rejection.  Now he is showing some success.   He is able to go shopping, and take the bus.  He is feeling comfortable in the local community.
Another, tenant wanted to look for a part time job, and found one!
One tenant did so well he moved out.  He got his own place.  Went to school, and has a job!

But Iris Court is not meant to be a transitional home.  It is meant to be home for the long term.

How about drugs and alcohol? 
Several tenants are in recovery, and sobriety is strongly encouraged.  Iris Court is a harm reduction facility, so no one is going to be evicted for coming home drunk.  But staff need to be very considerate of the need of the tenants.  Trueman Macdonald, Director of Housing at Iris Court notes that many are teetering on the edge every day.  If someone is loudly off balance with an addiction, it disrupts a lot of others.

Evictions are not done lightly.
In confronting behaviors of concern, staff usually work on a plan with the tenant to work on the issues.  Macdonald notes that an assault or violent behavior will result in eviction faster.  “Punching a hole in the wall?  Probably not, but it depends on why you did it.  Perhaps you imagined bugs in the wall, or had a voice in your head telling you to do it.” Staff also help tenants who struggle with hoarding or collecting stuff.  In these cases, they do a room visit once a week, with the goal of helping a person learn how to manage their space, as these can be a reason they lose their housing.

As far as other points of success, Trueman Macdonald reports that they have had very little turnover in staff, which is a really good sign.  As well, as part of their licensing as a lodge level facility, Accommodation Standards must be maintained. Guidelines require keeping a daily account of tenants, assessing risk, building maintenance, menu and meal requirements, Macdonald reports that Iris Court has been fully compliant and has been for the last three years.

How are the relationships with local neighbours?  Good!  More on that in the article,  Finding Home in Bonnie Doon; Iris Court’s Consultation Story


Profile by Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Trueman Macdonald, Director of Housing at Iris Court.

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