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Social work program to help improve troubled housing complex

A program that’s run by the School of Social Work and has a proven track record of bettering conditions in community housing neighbourhoods is perfectly positioned to help improve the troubled situation at a downtown Windsor high-rise, according to one of its administrators.

Cheryl Taggart

Cheryl Taggart.

“We have the skills, the know-how and the values for really moving that kind of agenda ahead,” said Cheryl Taggart, a project manager for the school’s award-winning Community-University Partnership program. “We know what works and we’re going to be able to use our resources and our strategies at 920 Ouellette to work with the residents and community partners.”

A recent stabbing at the Windsor-Essex Community Housing Corporation building is just the latest in a string of problems that have plagued the building in the last few years. Residents have had to deal with fires, property damage, violence, drug activity, and prostitution. Since January, Windsor police have been called there 107 times, but after the knifing incident, city officials vowed to crack down and make the building safe again.

A critical component in achieving that goal will be the Community-University Partnership, Taggart said. Until now, the program’s presence in the building has been part-time, but a recent social work graduate has been hired and will be located there all summer, along with a student in the master’s program. The Windsor-Essex Community Housing Corporation, the building’s owners, have provided a ground-floor apartment for the two workers to set up an office, which will establish greater visibility in the building and allow them to provide more accessible one-on-one counselling services, Taggart said.

“People are literally afraid to come out of their apartments there, so you can’t help them if you can’t reach them,” she said. “This will give us increased capacity to help the residents.”

In the fall, a new cohort of about eight students from both social work and nursing will be in the building, replicating a lot of the successful programming that has been implemented at the Glengarry housing project since 2005, Taggart said. Those programs have included drop-in centres, libraries, after school homework programs, diabetes awareness sessions, adult literacy programs, cooking and nutrition lessons, law clinics, resume writing lessons and neighbourhood watch programs to cut down on crime.

Residents in the Glengarry project have said they believe the programming there has had very positive effects and has helped contribute to a notable reduction in crime. Last year the program received the 10th Annual Community-Campus Partnerships for Health Award for making “significant contributions to community resilience, neighbourhood revitalization and civic engagement in the City of Windsor,” according to CCPH executive director Sarena Seifer.

Since it began at the Glengarry housing project Community-University Partnership—which originated in the school’s field education program—has expanded to include six social housing neighbourhoods and broadened the range of disciplines involved to include business, geography, law, and nursing.

Last fall, Mary Medcalf earned an Excellence in Education Award during a National Housing Day celebration for her role in the program as the school’s coordinator of field education programs. The award honours outstanding educational contributions to sustainable practices, and recipients are selected based on their efforts to integrate sustainable concepts in housing and community development into the academic curriculum. Medcalf has played a lead role in the partnership, placing more than 150 students to work on the complex challenges faced by individuals in low-income social housing neighbourhoods in Windsor.