November 19, 2010
Second Yaffa House opens
SUSAN J. KATZ
“On behalf of all the families who have struggled and continue to do so with a loved one suffering [with a] mental illness, thank you for making sure Yaffa House is a reality every day,” said Avie Estrin, president of the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society (VYHS) at the official opening ceremony for Yaffa House 2. More than 100 people attended the afternoon event which included a mezuzah dedication at the first Yaffa House, to commemorate the opening of Yaffa 2, with a mezuzah donated by Lubavitch British Columbia.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed great feedback about the event and I think this will go a long way towards establishing VYHS as one of the cornerstones in Vancouver’s Jewish support network for those of our members in greatest need,” said Estrin. “Earlier this year, the opportunity was presented for VYHS to acquire the home next door to Yaffa House 1 and they raised the money to purchase this home, which currently will provide three additional supported housing units. Pending acquisition of funds, the basement will be renovated to increase this by an additional two, bringing the two homes up to 10 for their combined capacity.”
The additional units will help address the shortage of housing for those in need. Charles Leibovitch, mental health support worker for both Yaffa houses, said that he sees “an ongoing theme of a shortage of housing for Jewish adults with mental illness.”
Representatives from agencies in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities were in attendance. In a speech to the capacity-filled Yaffa House 1, Darrell Burnham, executive director of Coast Mental Health Foundation, said, “In 1992, the relationship between Coast and the Jewish community began with the preparations for housing for people of Jewish heritage. Now, the second floor of the housing project at Dunbar is being framed, and this joint project will provide five more units of 350 square feet [each], a kosher kitchen and a common room for programs for the whole community.”
“Coast has had a partnership with the Yaffa Housing Society for well over 10 years, which led up to the opening of Yaffa House 1 in 2000 – the first mental health group home for Jewish individuals west of Winnipeg,” said Estrin. “Now, Yaffa 3 at Dunbar will be opening its doors in spring of 2011, offering additional housing with enhanced services for Jewish mentally ill in Vancouver and bringing the number of VYHS residents to 15.”
Michael, a Yaffa 1 resident, has now moved into Yaffa 2, where, he told the Independent, “It is nice to have our independence. There is more independence here than next door in all aspects, everything. The other resident and I have been friends since high school. We’re more than just Yaffa House residents, we’re within our community.”
According to Lyle, who was at the opening, the rooms left vacant by residents moving to Yaffa 2 have him “looking forward to moving to one of the two Yaffa Houses. I can get more support, especially to help me with my diet, because I have diabetes. I really want to thank Tzvia and Aaron Estrin, who started the Yaffa houses for us.” Aaron Estrin is a former president of VYHS.
Also in attendance at the opening were Joel Kaplan, executive director of Jewish Family Service Agency, and Rebecca Denham, JFSA’s new mental health outreach worker.
“Tikkun and outreach are mostly a collaboration,” said Kaplan of JFSA’s role. “Non-affiliated people are served by JFSA, people on the fringes of the community. The role of the outreach worker is a new venture and an augmentation to existing housing options.... We hope to bring together the many components to celebrate the gifts of people in the community, at gatherings, holidays, programs, educational events, and be supportive out of the normal box.”
One opportunity for residents is to care for the houses’ yards. Landscape architect Tracy Penner has donated her time to coordinate the planting and tending of vegetables and shrubs, which will be done by the residents. An ornamental grapevine is the first of these plants and was planted at the opening.
Susan J. Katz is a freelance writer, editor and award-winning poet living in Vancouver.