Social Work Week: A Tenant Liaison’s Story on Making Residents’ Lives Better
“Always be kind. Always keep trying. Don’t throw someone away because they aren’t doing the right thing right now.”
When Suzanne White first started at Calgary Housing Company (CHC), there were only 4,000 residents; today there are almost 25,000. She was the first Tenant Liaison at CHC. Tenant Liaisons are CHC’s social workers, each of them is registered with the Alberta College of Social Workers. They connect residents to resources, help them get settled in CHC, help keep them housed, and advocate for the residents.
Originally from Toronto, Suzanne started at CHC when she first moved to Calgary. She credits her creativity as a part of what helped her initially succeed in her role. In her first six months she made over 100 connections with agencies across Calgary. “We had issues with tenancy retention. So I started interviewing residents to see where they needed to be and where their supports were.” For one building that meant connecting with the psychiatric nurses who were working with some of the residents. Connecting the residents with external supports helped strengthen the connection between CHC and the resident.
When advocating for residents “maintaining housing is key. I’m creative and work with multiple agencies to keep people housed. There was one resident I connected to an income tax clinic, so she could get her taxes done, get back on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) and keep her residence.”
In addition to building relationships with different agencies, Suzanne builds strong relationships with residents as well. “At community events adults will come up to me and share memories from when they were a child. They’ll tell me about how I took them to the zoo or somewhere else. And they always give me a hug.”
Suzanne’s ability to engage with young people has been a key strength, “When there are challenges connecting with the parents, reaching out to the kids is a great way to build trust with the family.” One program she has introduced at the CHC Edgemont complex where she is Tenant Liaison is Soccer without Boundaries. It is run by a fellow named Jean Claude and the Edgemont Community Association. Jean works closely with the parents to help the kids succeed. This includes covering fuel costs or ordering taxis when transportation is a barrier to kids participating. This is just one of the many programs Suzanne has helped implement across CHC.
When asked about resident successes, Suzanne shares the story of an elderly resident. She was on oxygen with a long cord and Suzanne would go and visit her once a week to check in. When she eventually moved on to supportive living, her son called to say how much he appreciated those visits, because they had greatly helped cut down his mother’s isolation and had even helped her connect with the family next door.
Suzanne says that while university was very theoretical, on the job she quickly learnt how to connect with people. “Travel taught me about working with different cultures.” And “I’m a good listener, part of that is being okay with silence. I can be calm and listen and wait for people to speak.”
After several decades of experience as a Tenant Liaison with CHC, Suzanne says she has been fortunate to work with so many residents, CHC staff and community partners to help enhance the lives of those who live in affordable housing.
“A lot of people don’t know about affordable housing, they don’t understand what it is. Most people see CHC as low income, but it’s a lot more than that. A lot of agencies don’t even know what affordable housing is.” For many residents, the support and engagement provided by social workers like Suzanne and the rest of CHC’s Tenant Liaison team, an affordable home is the foundation of a better life.
Suzanne is the Tenant Liaison at CHC’s Edgemont building, which has 84 units of provincially regulated social housing. It was built in 1982 and houses families in two to five bedroom units. Tenant Liaison’s at CHC do an incredible range of work for residents and in developing the community at each site. While Social Work Week (March 7 to 13) is an opportunity to recognize their contributions, we greatly appreciate the work they do year round and the impact they have for our residents.