2000 OUTSTANDING LEADERSHIP AWARD
Brigitte Witkowski, Supportive Housing Coalition, Toronto
"Housing is Brigitte's passion," says a colleague of Brigitte Witowksi, "She makes things happen." Brigitte has certainly made things happen as Executive Director Supportive Housing Coalition of Toronto, an organisation that provides innovative affordable housing for over 1000 mental health consumer/survivors, in 40 residential locations across Toronto.
In the three years she has been involved with the SHC, she has transformed the Supportive Housing Coalition and enabled the organisation to maintain its position of leadership in the non-profit housing sector in Toronto. While the SHC has been in operation for the past 20 years, when she joined them in 1997 the organisation was in a critical phase of its existence. The Supportive Housing Coalition had developed a large volume of housing in a very short period of time but their management systems had not kept pace.
In the course of a few months, Brigitte put in place a new organization structure needed to support 1000 units. She began to address long standing building maintenance problems; negotiated a first collective agreement with staff; established sound financial controls; initiated a strategic planning process; built a capable staff management team, and renewed the commitment of the community-based board of directors-No easy process.
Brigitte accomplished this with her usual humour and good will. Board member Paul Dowling says, "She is exceptional in her ability to combine excellence in vision with excellence in administration and accountability."
Brigitte is articulate, well informed, and charismatic. Her ability to paint a picture of supportive housing and the particular needs of hard-to-house tenants makes her a powerful advocate on housing issues. She has been described by colleagues as "A woman of integrity." "A visionary." "A fighter."
Brigitte has dedicated the last 20 years to supportive housing. As a front line worker at Homes First Society, Director of Housing and Woodgreen Community Centre, President of the Board of Houselink Community Homes, and now as the Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Coalition of Toronto, Brigitte has played a pivotal role in advancing the unique needs of supportive housing providers and the people that they serve. She was a founding member of the Toronto Alternative Housing Providers, an ad hoc organization of providers who house homeless and marginalized people. Additionally, she has been a strong backer of organizations like Fresh Start which provides employment for consumer/survivors.
Certainly her list of housing credentials bears this out. Brigitte has made a province-wide impact with her work. At ONPHA, she has been a member of the Supportive Housing Committee for five years, been on the Program Administration Working Committee for five years, served on the Board of Directors for three. She has also taught ONPHA courses for six years and been a regular contributor at the ONPHA conference, always to superlative reviews.
Brigitte was also a member of the Province's Advisory Committee on Mental Health Policy. This committee met almost weekly for six months in 1999 to advise the Ministry of Health on the future direction of supportive housing for people living with mental illness and Brigitte has devoted countless hours representing the perspectives of supportive housing providers and ONPHA. She currently represents ONPHA on the Provincial Advisory Committee on Mental Health in Ontario.
Gord Singer, chair of the Board of the Supportive Housing Coalition, says tenants always feel Brigitte is available: She attends member meetings, goes out to buildings, really understands the problems tenants experience.
"Brigitte is a dynamo", he says, "intelligent, energetic, caring and strong, a natural leader."