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Meet Tracey Wilson of Rooted Life Supportive Housing/Veza Living Supportive Housing

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracey Wilson.

Tracey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I came into supportive housing and the mental health field pretty much by accident. I never dreamed that I would be running a business where I assisted individuals with severe mental illness by providing them with support, housing and advocacy. Now I don’t know what else I would be doing because I love it!

It all started with a colleague of mine, Kim Sturm (kbscollaborative.org), asking if I would assist her with a few of her Care Management clients. As I was coming from a fitness background, I had no idea what I was in for but since my schedule was fairly unusual and I had a lot of time to spare during the day, I said: “Why not”!

From the first client, I assisted her with I was sold! I call Care Management, social work on steroids. I assisted individuals with mental illness, traumatic brain injuries, addictions etc. in all aspects of their day to day lives. From doctor and psych appointments to grocery shopping, to managing medications and the continuum of care, we managed our clients lives from top to bottom. And then there was finding them housing… If you have never seen transitional housing before you cannot understand how deplorable, disgusting and absolutely horrendous the conditions are of the majority of houses.

When I went to view these homes, I felt unsafe, disheartened and angry that people were being taken advantage of and treated in such a horrible manner. They slept on blood and feces-stained mattresses, many times on the floor; they were crowded into rooms that were infested with bedbugs and roaches.; there was no supervision so illicit drugs were rampant among residents; no food or very minimal food. Most of them considered having just a roof over their heads better than being homeless but these conditions were worse than homelessness. It was completely eye-opening that good, clean, safe supportive housing did not exist.

After seeing too many of these types of houses, too many owners who didn’t care just took what little money these people had and provided them with terrible living conditions, It didn’t take me long to decide that I can do this better and I did.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I started my business not knowing how it was going to work, if it was going to work or if I could even handle being in business for myself. I gathered what little funds I had, opened up a business, couldn’t pay my rent for two months and got a full-time job for the next two years while building my business. I think everyone who starts a business goes through these emotions and struggles or something similar

The real struggles I have had have not been with the business itself but the people that I cater too. When housing men and women with mental health issues, coming mostly from homelessness, there is an adjustment period for you and for them. Each person is completely different and how one person can react to something positively another can react to negatively within the same conversation. Patience is definitely a virtue that I have gained through getting to know my residents and understand their individual triggers.

This was a struggle at first because I was not sure who was able to thrive in a shared living environment and who wasn’t. At times I still don’t! This also led to the realization that I cannot help everyone and some people were just not ready to be helped. But people should at least be given a chance to be their best selves and they cannot do so without their basic physiological needs being adequately met. And one of those basic needs is housing.

Rooted Life Supportive Housing/Veza Living Supportive Housing – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The short explanation of my business is that I provide supportive housing for individuals with severe mental illness and usually a co-occurring addiction. I am known for my professionalism, prompt responses and insight into my clientele. I am also known to be very outspoken when it comes to getting my clientele the assistance they need.

I am proud that I am changing the face of the supportive housing. I am providing a clean, comfortable, nurturing homes that are just like family homes. When people think of transitional housing, they think of the places that I previously described. But I am radically changing that perception!

What sets me apart is the caliber of my homes. They are always clean, have on-site staff 24/7, provide great food and actually provide support so people can progress to living on their own and be reintroduced successfully back into society.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moments are when my clientele thank me for providing them with a home they never thought they deserved, they graduate from a recovery program and kick their addiction, they get a job or start school, or they thank me for saving their lives.

All the accolades never compare to how it feels when you really have provided something so basic that has turned someone’s life around positively.

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