Building a Network of Support — A Q&A with Kaitlynn Gard

Editor’s note: In the first of a series of Q&As on Doing Things Differently, we spoke with Kaitlynn Gard, the Pathways director of supports and services with Community Living Brant. We inquire into the new ways in which Community Living Brant teams are engaging and collaborating with the community and each other to foster strong and connected communities. We explore the creative thinking that brings energy to the complexity of being and doing in community.


What are some new ways of doing things that you have been seeing within your team and community?

I’ll focus on our work in pathways. Pathways is one of our teams here at Community Living Brant. It began back in the fall, but I would say that way before that, it started as an idea. Thinking about some of the folks that we support and what they’re facing. Thinking about how we can make a more concerted effort to provide some unique supports that people shared that they needed.

The team is geared to supporting folks who are struggling with securing stable housing. So folks that identify either as being homeless, couch surfing, precariously housed or are, perhaps, at risk for losing their housing in the near future. Along with that, some struggle with addictions and concurrent disorders and are seeking mental health services and supports within the community. But some folks are finding it challenging to navigate all of the different pathways through the various service providers within the community. It can be confusing to achieve wellness when your basic needs are not being met.

I think our current housing situation and community is in crisis, so this team is setting out to provide some unique navigation supports, unique community partnerships, and relationships, at the citizen level and with other local agencies and service providers. Taking that perspective of a harm-reduction approach and meeting folks where they’re at.

We do outreach alongside local partners in handing out harm-reduction supplies, basic needs supplies, food, water, all of those things. It’s a community-based solution that needs to happen and our way forward is rooted in partnership.

Looking at things through a different lens in a more holistic way helps us to see that there are many ways forward and it’s not through one particular path.

Imagine the project you’re working on right now, what inspires you most?

The most inspiring thing that comes to mind are the stories. Seeing somebody who was homeless not too long ago have stable housing now. Seeing how having that basic need met really contributes towards feeling ready to make strides forward. That’s all part of the journey for some of these folks and seeing that happen, watching people achieve those positive outcomes and seeing incremental successes has been the most inspiring thing for me.

What are the creative ways in which you approach things differently that you see making an effect?

We take a holistic approach, in recognizing that where folks are finding themselves is not a disability issue. It’s a community-based issue. Looking at things through a different lens in a more holistic way helps us to see that there are many ways forward and it’s not through one particular path. Meeting people where they’re at and recognizing that one small step forward for them might be securing a spot to stay that given night and figuring out how we build on success from that point forward. I think it’s about trying not to come at things from a judgmental or harmful lens and trying to be open minded. It’s important when you’re supporting people that it’s done in a way that creates a sense of belonging and welcoming for our community.

What are the dynamics you’re noticing in community as you do this work?

We’ve built some really great partnerships with other service providers in the area and had some great conversations with folks in community. That broadens the network for the people that we support.

The more partnerships that we can create, the more bridges to connections that we can support people in making while they’re out and about in community. So it has been really successful, fostering those positive connections and relationships to focus on community.

What would you like to see more of?

When we’re able to gather and have really great conversations — outside-the-box conversations — that’s where the magic happens with a new connection or a new networking opportunity or a new avenue that we can explore for somebody that we support. Fostering the conversations and the dialogue to continue to help people push forward is really important. And to bring education and advocacy to some of the needs in community, to explore what other communities are doing in response to some of the things that we’re seeing. More conversation would be great, but the ones that are happening that I’ve been a part of have been fabulous and really inspiring to be a part of.

We have to ask, how do we work together and how do we build the network around the person?

What are some steps that could be taken to move in that direction?

I just sat in on the housing conversation (recently). It was really awesome to get to hear a very different perspective on an approach to securing housing. I’ve been mulling over it for the past couple of days. Having creative opportunities is awesome. So building those relationships and creating the space for it is the way forward.

Where do we create this space? A lot of the stuff is virtual these days, because of COVID, but there are lots of things happening in community, there are many awesome spaces that some of these service providers could offer. Even through the small opportunities to have a conversation when we’re doing outreach, could we come together collaboratively?

Creating the space and creating the opportunity and having people come that want to engage in those conversations is really important. Inviting those folks that helped to make those decisions around housing, and access to support and services is really important as well.

What is the best possible thing that could happen?

We would have nobody living homeless in our city or in our communities. I think having access to housing should be priority one. It should be a right for every person to have access to housing. Taking steps towards building a more holistic service network, both formal and informal, helping people to build natural connections in their communities. Helping people belong and feel that sense of belonging within their communities. Having their housing solutions be flexible and unique and cater to their specific needs, while recognizing that communities have formed within our homeless population. Solutions that remove people from their communities is not ideal. So helping people to remain connected to the relationships that they’ve fostered and helping people to remain in the community in which they’re comfortable is really important.

Having more opportunities for more stable and secure housing would be the ultimate goal, and helping people to have very clear pathways towards wellness. Including treatment for addictions and mental health. To have more collaborative space between the service providers that are offering those supports to our community. Figuring out how to work together so that the person who’s accessing different types of services and supports is not feeling disjointed and having to go to six different places to get the support that they need. We have to ask, how do we work together and how do we build the network around the person?


Lead photo cutline: A few members of the Community Living Brant Pathways team with the new bikes they will be utilizing to provide outreach in the Brantford community.


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