We’re all heading H.O.M.E

One person who is homeless and on the streets needing shelter is one too many

As I outlined in my last column, it is my conviction that all of us are on a journey towards home. At my workplace with The Salvation Army in our five downtown Toronto shelters (three shelters for men and two for women totaling around 600 beds), our whole vision is summed up by the word H.O.M.E. (Housing, Outcomes, Mission, Excellence)

As I focus on the Housing piece of our vision, I am mindful that there is simply not enough affordable, durable, appropriate housing to go around. If there were, we would not have the kinds of problems we are faced with today regarding homelessness. But we will not just sit back and wait while governments on every level pontificate over how best to proceed on the issue.

One person who is homeless and on the streets needing shelter is one too many!

In Canada, on any given day, 35,000 people have no place to go. So we at The Salvation Army in Toronto strive to assist 600 of those people every day to find housing.

We have adopted a methodology called Housing First. When I first started doing this work over 25 years ago, we believed that we should help to try and resolve a person’s issues first before we try and find a suitable place to live.

When I look back, I believe this was the wrong way to approach the issue. How hard it must be to work on issues like addiction, lack of employment, mental, and other health problems, trauma and who knows what else, while living in a shelter or on the street?

That needed to change.

The major principle of Housing First is simply this: to find housing as quickly as possible and then provide the needed supports once the person is housed. I am totally sold out to this idea. It just makes sense to me. So that is what we are doing.

Everything we do now in our shelters is aimed at housing someone. From our case management model using ‘outcomes star,’ our triage system that begins as soon as someone walks in our doors, our chaplaincy work, our street outreach, and everything we do, we are about getting someone off the streets, out of the shelters, and into appropriate housing as quickly as possible. Then we provide the necessary supports and community connections afterwards.

Housing First has been rightly criticized, however. There are indeed some weaknesses to the model. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there just isn’t enough housing stock available. Sometimes the only places open at the prices someone can afford are run by slum landlords. These are places I wouldn’t send my least favorite person to live.

Another issue with this idea is that sometimes the necessary supports are not available. People can be ‘housed’ with the promises of follow up supports and then sadly be left on their own to fend for themselves. This can and does lead to a whole gamut of possible problems.

We at The Salvation Army strive not to fall into these potential pitfalls. That’s why we are looking much more at the quality of the housing and the supports we can offer and much less at the quantity of people we can house. That leads me to the next part of our vision of HOME - outcomes.

I’ll write about that next time.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Dion Oxford is the Mission Strategist for The Salvation Army's five homeless shelters in Toronto, called Housing and Homeless Supports torontohhs.org. Dion along with his wife, Erinn, and daughter, Cate, live in Toronto and are committed to journeying alongside people in the margins of society. He blogs at dionoxford.com

About the author