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The Bill McMurray Residence Story - The 1996 Crisis

In the beginning (1974), the targeted clients for the Bill McMurray Residence had consisted of lower and middle income seniors who could no longer take care of their homes or themselves on their own. The intent was for these seniors to move into a retirement residence where they could receive dining and cleaning supports that would allow them to "age in place" until such time as they needed to be transferred to a home for the aged. In the 80's and 90's the CMHC and Provincially funded "shelter only" projects continued to grow complimented by a host of community based services such as meals on wheels and eventually the CCAC model of providing medical and clinical supports into a person's home. The seniors residing at the Bill McMurray Residence during these years moved out to larger 600 and 800 square foot apartments supported by these community based agencies. In 1995 the project was taken back by CMHC because it had only 16 residents in the 84 rooms. It was essentially bankrupt, in danger of being sold into the private sector and demolished.

The Response: An Exercise in Social Entrepreneurship
In 1996, the Sionito Group responding to a CMHC RFP (Request for Proposals) and meeting with social workers throughout the community became aware that there were a great number of psychiatric clients being de-institutionalized from mental health centres and being transferred into community settings such as rooming houses, basement apartments and boarding homes throughout the Parkdale area of Toronto. The visionary model being introduced was to provide mental health services into regular home settings, similar to the overall health care emphasis on home care options. The goal was to allow citizens with mental health challenges to normalize their lives within a non-institutional, community based environment while at the same time still receiving the clinical and medical services required by their condition. The community based social workers supporting this transfer of clients into the larger community reported that the most vulnerable clients in this process were senior citizens who had psychiatric or addiction challenges combined with the frailties of aging. They did not have the energy to stay informed of available personal services, to independently provide nutritional meals, to retain relationships with former friends from the institution with the consequence that they existed in isolated apartments marginalized from the services and supports available to them. They needed a unique set of additional services if they were to thrive in the new community based context. The Sionito Group board members decided to transform the failing Bill Mc Murray Residence into a supportive housing project that would restore physical and mental health to this marginalized group. The Bill McMurray residence with the capability of providing extensive care services to its residents was designed and equipped to be able to help an even more impoverished and challenged group of citizens than any of the previous Sionito projects. It could provide nutritious meals to those who had lost the ability to provide for themselves either as a result of psychiatric challenges or as a result of not coping in multi-unit rooming house situations. Everyone, needs privacy in order to have a sense of control over their lives and although the rooms are small (200 sq. ft.) at Bill McMurray they do provide a private washroom and living area for each resident. The building was ideally constructed for the newly targeted group of Sionito clients.

Present Integration Into the Social Service System
Presently 100% of our eighty four residents are assessed and then referred through hospitals and community based agencies to our residence. Keeping with the original mandate of the project the focus is on serving those defined as impoverished seniors, however, now we target senior's who have been marginalized from the health care system by psychiatric or addiction challenges. Under encouragement from the social work community and the City housing consultants we have also included some younger developmentally delayed individuals. Our findings are that a limited inter-age spread offers vitality and normalization to the community environment that encourages the life-ability of all the residents. The younger residents have the energy to help the more senior residents in their shopping, in socializing and in helping them get a coffee or in the case of our two blind residents, helping them maneuver through life.

The funding for the program beginning in 1974 was based on Federal capital subsidies combined with Provincial rental subsidies covering 64 of the 84 units. The other 20 were market units, essentially internally subsidized by the project itself. This served the project up until 2002 when subsidies on being downloaded to the City level were cut back. In order to restore appropriate funding Sionito approached Habitat Services in order to fund the 20 market units. The result is that these are now funded by Habitat Services which effectively means that the Ministry of Health funds 80% and the City of Toronto funds 20% of the Habitat units. The City funded 64 units are presently funded at 19% less than the Habitat funded units creating an inequity in the project.

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