Tenant feels at home in new social housing complex

105-unit building on Seymour Street cost $28.2 million

About a year ago, Andre Jones ended up in St. Paul's Hospital for eight weeks after trashing his East Side apartment.

Police transported the 58year-old former film industry worker to St. Paul's after Jones suffered what he described as "a manic binge."

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After being released from hospital, where doctors monitored his recent diagnosis of acute bipolar disorder, he agreed with his landlord it was time to move out of the small complex at Hastings and Nanaimo. "I'm fine today," he said Wednesday. "I'm working with some new meds and we're finding a balance so I can live a normal life like everybody else."

Jones spoke to the Courier by telephone from his new residence at Karis Place on Seymour Street, a 105-unit social housing building that opened this summer.

It's one of the city-owned 14 sites set aside for social housing. So far, four buildings have opened in the city, including another 80-unit complex on Station Street.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Richmond Conservative MP Alice Wong officially opened Karis Place Tuesday. The building is set up so Jones and other tenants, who include formerly homeless people and those suffering from addictions, can access nurses, doctors and managers.

Tenants will soon be able to participate in art, yoga and cooking classes, and at least one resident is using the basement to continue his passion for woodworking. "We feel like we're part of the city, you know what I mean?" said Jones, who moved in to his bachelor suite in July. "And it's really important because one thing about being homeless that I can share, which is a universal feeling, is feeling shut out of the normal, day-to-day activities of the rest of the world. You feel like you're off the treadmill. That can be good, or that can be bad."

Jones was born in Montreal but spent 25 years working in the film industry in Los Angeles. At one point, he was homeless for more than a year, living with his fouryear-old son in a state park in Santa Cruz. "You can't do urban homelessness," he said, referring to the plight of those living on Vancouver's streets. "That's almost impossible to maintain hygiene and food supply and all that stuff, unless you're feeding off the city's freebies."

Jones pays $375 a month for his apartment, a sum that is one-third of his disability assistance income. He spends his days reading, writing and at the library researching material for screenplays.

He's feeling good about himself these days and knows if he experiences another breakdown, he's surrounded by people who can help.

"I've told them if I behave a certain way, or if I'm acting up, to literally just call the hospital and call my doctors and have me ambulanced away so I can be dealt with," Jones said.

More Than A Roof Society manages the complex, which also includes 15 apartments for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

Total cost of the building was $28.2 million.

mhowell@vancourier.com Twitter: @Howellings

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