FASD is a brain injury that can occur when an unborn baby is exposed to alcohol. It’s a lifelong disorder with effects that include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities. These can vary from mild to severe.
(Source: canada.ca; FASD
According to Ashley Baxter, Manager of Bissell Centre’s FASD programs at Hope Terrace, a prominent feature for those with a stronger disorder is a lack of emotional regulation. She says we all experience a storm of emotions from time to time; triggered by fear, anger, anxiety, pain or trauma. Ordinarily, Baxter says, the emotions shoot up from the hippocampus to our reasoning centre, which works like a filter to control our response. Depending on the person and the severity of their disorder, that filter might not work. That can result in very strong reactions; a stream of rage and angry words and occasionally a physical acting out will sometimes erupt damaging relationships. This is of course a source of tension and anxiety for those families and friends struggling to care for a loved one.
Critical to this work of care is committed supporting relationships; especially those strong enough to weather the frequent storms of emotions. And of course, a stable home situation and access to medications and professional aids go a long way to help a person with FASD find fulfillment and a reasonably stable and meaningful life.
If a person with FASD loses this support and stability their challenge is exponentially harder. Some end up living on the street and there accumulate a host of other challenges; including trauma, physical health and injury, and addictions to drugs and alcohol as they seek escape from the ongoing pain and struggle. Helping someone find their way back from this place of anger and despair takes much more than a meal at a soup kitchen. It requires a stable home, supports, and counseling and a network of committed supporting relationships. That’s where a place like Hope Terrace comes in.
First opening in January of 2016, Hope Terrace provides permanent supportive housing to twenty three adult (18+) residents with a string of complex challenges, including stronger forms of FASD. Residents are people with a history of housing instability (homelessness), who may also carry behind them difficult family histories, trauma, and additional mental health challenges (such as oppositional defiance disorder). Some residents may also struggle with self-harm.
The staff at Hope Terrace are there twenty four-seven to provide stability, support, and care to these residents, according to a model that emphasizes caring relationship. They are trained to respond to the complex series of needs and challenges, and strive to provide a stable home and community where people can heal and improve their situation.
Photo above by David Bloom
Hope Terrace is a harm reduction facility so residents are allowed to consume alcohol or use drugs in the safety of their home without fear of expulsion. Baxter notes that this is a privilege most of us enjoy in our own homes and that it provides dignity to people; as opposed to forcing them out onto the street. “Those seeking refuge in drugs and alcohol do so to try to cope and silence their brain.” At Hope Terrace, people can be active users and know that those around them understand. If family (especially children) are coming to visit, the staff makes it their regular practice to ensure the resident is sober so that it will be a good visit.
Creating community in the facility is a priority. A foundational piece of that puzzle is establishing trust, consistency, and honesty as a norm. Predictable routines and policies ensure that people know that their private details will not be shared, and their space will be honoured. And they have movie nights, jam sessions, programs, trips to the recreational centre, and other local community events.
Guests are welcomed into the facility as long as they are respectful and follow the rules. If staff sense that a resident is being taken advantage of (such as friends who tend to come around on payday), they will have a conversation with that resident. Ultimately, they seek to support positive relationships as supportive community is a need everyone has.
Is Hope Terrace a healthy example of community care?
A critical marker of success is when residents feel connected and safe to talk to the staff, as trust and relationship are critical ingredients to a person’s journey.
As far as examples, Ashley notes that everyone’s stories and situations are very different, so success will look very different for each person. One person’s success may be finishing high school and looking for a job. Another’s may be retaining their housing, and slowly becoming healthier. Certainly, there have been some great indicators. One person who has never had stable housing has been there for a year and a half; coming home every night! And they have seen this kind of success fairly broadly, with over fifty percent of their residents coming on board over the last two years settling in for the long term.
Why do people fall away from the program? Ashley highlights two main reasons:
1. When someone gets physically violent with staff or other residents. For everyone’s safety, they have to be removed.
2. Difficult roommate situations. As Hope Terrace is a repurposed apartment complex, nine of the units are two bedroom; requiring two residents to share space. As emotional deregulation is an issue for many of the residents, living in such close quarters with another does not often go well, so a person will get fed up and walk away from their housing; often back onto the street.
How about the relationship with the local community?
“For the first year, the local neighbourhood didn’t even know we were there.” As it was a repurposed apartment and formerly in use by the Terra Centre as home for teen parents and their families, there was no discussion with local neighbours ahead of time, and after two years, there have not been any concerns raised locally. There are not too many residential dwellings close by, but there are a few, and some local businesses. But to date, they have never had a neighbour complain to the police. Sometimes their residents have called the police, but never local neighbours. They have only had one concerned neighbour stop in and that was to ask one of the residents to turn down the music in their room.
But there have been some concerns in the local neighbourhood. As the area is sort of a grey zone with less intensive policing, the Red Alert gang has presence in some of the local houses. There was a flop house close by that was causing some concern for Hope Terrace residents, but with frequent complaints to the police and SCAN, Hope Terrace staff were able to get it resolved.
Ashley says it is important for residents to feel comfortable out in the community, and not feel “othered.” Going for a swim at the rec. centre, or for a fire and marshmallows in the park helps people feel comfortable and at home in their community.
Based on an interview with Ashley Baxter, manager of FASD programs at Hope Terrace
To learn more about FASD and how communities can respond well to people with FASD symptoms, please explore the following link for a series of educational sessions: http://fasd.alberta.ca/search.aspx
See the following for another look into the work done by Hope Terrace in the Edmonton Journal: http://edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/hope-terrace-where-success-is-sweet-but-failure-can-break-your-heart