Reflections from our outgoing supportive housing coordinator, Nikki Browne
After three years of working with the St. John’s Status of Women Council, our amazing Marguerite’s Place Supportive Housing Coordinator has decided to move on. Before she left though, I sat down to ask her a few questions about her role and learn from her years with the organization. As usual, Nikki made me laugh, cry a bit, but also reminded me of the passion she brings to the organization and how that has made us better everyday.
Thinking of filling her shoes? Read on to learn more about her role, about the importance of taking a trauma informed approach to community work, and about the importance of meeting people exactly where they are when providing support.
- If you had to describe your job in just 3 words, what would they be?
Dynamic, flexible, life-long-learning
- What is the hardest part of your job?
Working for a chronically underfunded women and non-binary serving organization means we always have to do a lot with little. The pressure to meet the needs of the amazing residents, my wonderful colleagues, and the larger community can be challenging. This work is complicated, but I know that it is also worth it.
- What is the part of your job that you like the most?
Watching true harm reduction improve people’s lives because they are accepted for who they are, where they are.
- What type of personality do you think the new MP Program Coordinator should have?
You have to have a sense of humour; humour is a great tool to build relationships. You have to be interested in the lives of the people you work with so they know that they matter to you. You have to have great boundaries and be able to manage expectations – expectations of residents, colleagues, and your own expectations of yourself. You have to be the type of person who doesn’t want to sit at a desk all day – you are outside, you are in apartments, you are taking out the garbage, you are cleaning up a mess, you are always on the go. Time management is key and being able to prioritize competing demands is vital. You have to be willing to admit when you are wrong or when you could do better, learn, forgive yourself, and move on.
It’s hard work, but it really builds your confidence. Once you hit your stride in this role, you feel great. Some days you leave and feel like you took care of business and some days you leave needing to decompress and shut off your brain. Both are important learning experiences.
- What types of career development or learning opportunities were important for you in this position?
I’ve learned that when it comes to supportive housing and supporting people who have faced extensive barriers in their lives, ensuring that people feel safe, have a roof over their head, and are surrounded by people who see the best in them helps in unimaginable ways. They just need a break, which is one of the simple things people receive here at Marguerite’s Place, and it changes everything. People need compassion. Compassion in social services. Compassion in housing. Compassion in mental health supports. Compassion in every area of their lives.
I learned how to be a trauma informed supervisor with staff and in my support for residents. Working in a trauma informed way takes time, emotional energy, you have to be present, you have to anticipate things. This work is hard and being trauma informed helps people feel better about their workplace. Working in systems that often uphold oppression and put barriers in place that stop people from reaching their goals – we need to be there for each other.
I knew some of this already, but I learned more about making space for hard conversations and holding each other accountable, while also understanding that we’re all in different places in our learning.
What I’ve learned is the duality of existence. So many things can be true at once. We have to believe people, believe their truth in each moment.
I also learned how to take care of plants thanks to my colleagues – a very important skill!
- What is the next big thing for Marguerite’s Place?
Learning how to walk the walk and figuring out how to manage the resources so that people can do it right. We have strong values here and for a long time we were meeting the needs of white, hetero, cis-gender women who were facing barriers in their lives. We need to serve all women and non-binary people in this community and so we need to do a lot of work around anti-racism and meaningful inclusion. We learn from many people in our community, but we need to ensure our practices are completely in line with our values. We can’t just talk the talk. We need to walk the walk.
The other big next step for Marguerite’s Place is to build the ways in which we value and make room for lived and living expertise. There are some things you just can’t learn from a book. Lived expertise is just as important if not more important than what you can learn from a book and people with lived expertise can help us to get this right. This can be challenging, but it is worth it.
- The mission of the SJSWC is to work to achieve equality and justice through political activism, community collaboration and the creation of a safe and inclusive space for all women and non-binary people in the St. John’s area. Can you tell me about a time when you felt that mission in your work?
I really felt that mission in my work when we piloted the Managed Alcohol Program (MAP). There are other provinces doing this work and we learned from it and tested managed alcohol here at Marguerite’s Place. The team at Marguerite’s Place took on this initiative and rode that learning curve as we tried to make it work. This is a single staffed team and taking on something this new is hard. But they knew it had to be done and everyone leaned in together.
After that initial trial, we were able to secure the funding needed to make this a full program. Watching MAP evolve to where it is now – that is where I see our mission every day. We started it for women and non-binary people and the truth is that it is not often that programs are built for those in our community who are facing the most barriers in society. This is the mission in action. This is harm reduction.
Harm reduction has to be political. It tells us to treat people with the inherent dignity they are born with. At the St. John’s Status of Women Council, we don’t place our individual values and expectations on people.
- Is there anything else that you would like to share?
I couldn’t have done this work, started the managed alcohol pilot or really built the program as it is today without the guidance and support of Raylene Noftall (the former Marguerite’s Place Supportive Housing Coordinator) and Laura Winters (the former Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council). They are such smart and thoughtful women. They have both left, but their passion has left the organization in a good place and now in your (Lisa Faye, current Executive Director) steady hands. I see an amazing future for the St. John’s Status of Women Council and for our supportive housing work. The future is hopeful.
The team at the St. John’s Status of Women Council thank Nikki for her time, her passion, the ways she inspires us, and for saying the hard things that need to be said to make our work better every day. We also wish her the very best in her next challenge and we know that she will be bringing her important skills and her compassion to the community in new ways.
- Lisa Faye, Executive Director, St. John’s Status of Women Council and Women’s Centre