November 14, 2016
The UpBeat is a section in the Citizen where readers can submit their own feel-good stories. This was submitted by Tony Atherton, writing on behalf of Ancoura. Peter Heinz Kaspersetz (centre) and Riel Boire share a west-end townhouse and the friendship of visiting volunteer Thea Cummingham, here helping to catalogue the roomates’ music collection. The two are a part of the Ancoura housing program in Ottawa.
Peter Heinz Kaspersetz doesn’t like to fall ill.
He’s not worried about catching a cold, or picking up a flu bug. Kaspersetz doesn’t like it when the bipolar disorder he’s lived with for almost half of his 57 years gets the better of him. It happened when he was living in Vars a few years back. Isolated and lonely, he sank into a crippling depression.
“I was comatose,” Kaspersetz recalls, sitting at the dining room table in the cheery west-end townhouse he shares with two others. “I didn’t know my name. I got out of bed and went back to bed. It was getting kind of rough.
“See, the reason I moved into Ancoura was that I don’t like getting sick.”
The former oil-patch and lumberyard worker has had a number of living arrangements since his diagnosis. He’s lived in apartments, motel rooms, the Ottawa Mission and a local mental health rehabilitation residence. But since becoming involved with Ancoura, an organization whose outreach to those with mental illness is unique in Ottawa, Kaspersetz figures he’s found not just housing, but a home.
“I can’t say enough about Ancoura,” Kaspersetz says. “It isn’t supervised like a group home where they make the same meal every day and they do your laundry, and all you can do all day is smoke cigarettes. I couldn’t see my life going that way.”
At the six Ancoura homes currently operating in the city, the emphasis is on independent living, cushioned by an informal support system designed to feel like an extended family. Each home is visited by four or five volunteers whose contribution is not medical, professional or even therapeutic in a formal sense. What Ancoura volunteers offer is simple friendship. They hang out with the residents, go for walks, take in a movie, play cards; the activities are unstructured and based on mutual interests, which is the nature of friendships.
“The volunteers, they’re instrumental,” says Kaspersetz. “You look at that and say, wow, you get all that from Ancoura.”
“Community is probably our basic value,” says Ancoura’s president Richard Haughian, “Building community in each home, building community in Ancoura as a larger community.
“I think it’s a unique approach in the country as far as we can tell,” says Haughian. Ancoura rents townhouses instead of apartments, where three residents live together and share common space, with volunteers forming “a circle of friends.”
Ancoura opened its first home in 2009 and has expanded steadily. It would like to open one a year for at least the next few years.
The organization employs two part-timers and one full-time co-ordinator. “She meets with each group of residents once a week, not to look at their medical conditions because each of them have their own healthcare team … but to look at the dynamics of living together,” says Haughian. Given that the residents’ Ontario disability payments cover the rent, Ancoura is as cost-efficient as it is effective.
“We don’t have huge administrative expenses so someone who gives to Ancoura knows the money is going to enhance the lives of our residents.”
Ancoura is always looking for volunteers and financial support, says Haughian
“We don’t fit into a set government fundraising system, so we fundraise every year to cover our major expenses and we reach out to individuals, churches, organizations, (and) businesses trying to set some types of relationships that can give us the funding to continue.”
Kaspersetz proudly serves on the Ancoura board. “Too bad mom and dad aren’t alive … I wish they would be alive today to see how well I’m doing.”