Doing Homework with Care

Photo of Kris Desjarlais

Interview with Kris Desjarlais

Home is the nicest word there is. — Laura Ingalls Wilder

A community is ‘a great place to live’ when residents look out for one another.

In Brandon, Housing First program staff, together with several supportive local groups, help folks who are homeless find a place to call their own.

Kris Desjarlais is Coordinator of the Housing First program:

Left quotation mark Over ninety percent of our clientele has experienced trauma. Because of this, the addictions, mental health issues or other struggles they face are rooted in that trauma.

I had supportive parents and have a lot of friends and family. If something happened to me it likely wouldn’t trigger a post-traumatic response because I have so much support.

I was also able to develop strong coping skills, but that’s not true for everyone.

Our role isn’t to insist people deal with their trauma, it is to settle them into a home of their own.

It’s much easier for someone to make improvements and changes to their world when they have a bed and heat and food on the table.

What makes Housing First work is that it’s always client-centred, and takes a harm reduction approach.

Our expectations are that they meet with us and are willing to work on their issues at some point.

So, when clients are ready, we can connect them to services for addictions, mental health, employment, family reconciliation, that sort of thing.

We meet with most clients at least once a month, and with some I work one-on-one.

We have a good team — the case managers take a lead role but I’m there to assist if they need help.

We have an amazing community of collaborative stake holders that support the housing first approach and assist us in making things work for these individuals and families.

If you ask landlords what is most important to them, they will say: the rent being paid on time, and having repairs to damaged property paid for by the tenant.

Someone who has a low income usually doesn’t have the means to take care of damages. And, they likely don’t have references, so they wouldn’t be accepted as a tenant.

I explain to landlords that in lieu of references, we’ll cover repairs, and because of that, they are willing to rent to our clients.

I tell them to call me if there’s an issue with a client, and I will take care of it right away. I do everything I can to keep people housed.

There has only been one time when an individual who was causing a disturbance initially refused to leave.

But I said, ‘I understand why you don’t want to leave. You don’t want to be out on the street. I promise we will find you another place, but it will be harder for us to do that if you fight this.

The landlord let you come in but you didn’t abide by the rules. So, let’s be fair to him and move on. We’ll find you another place, it’s not the end of the world.’

So, that landlord continues to rent to our clients because we held up our end of the bargain.

It can be a challenging job but it is rewarding when someone is receptive and grateful for the work you’re doing with them.

In 2014, I was elected Councillor for Rosser Ward. I’ve always valued the importance of being an active citizen and was at a place in my life where I was able to offer whatever I had to the community. I really enjoy council and I am going to run again.

I truly believe that Brandon has unlimited potential. I really love this city. When I moved here I felt a connection. Right quotation mark

by Brandon Now

Editor’s Note: Kris became Coordinator for Housing First when the program was introduced into Brandon in 2015.

Over the next three years his commitment to the program helped put it on a firm footing.

In May 2018, Kris made a career change to take on the newly-created Director of Indigenous Education position at Assiniboine Community College. 


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