A new research project is aiming to change the path of homeless individuals in Kingston by supporting them with more than just a roof over their heads.
Lead researcher, Carrie Anne Marshall, Ph.D., and Former Kingston MPP Sophie Kiwala, a member of the community advisory board for the project, met virtually with the media and honoured guests on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, to give an update about the Transition From Homelessness Project, and to work towards potential future shared-use tenancy in a building that the Anglican Church of Canada created specifically for community use in Kingston.
According to Marshall, the new project is not about finding homes for individuals, something she says current models of service are very good at, but rather, it is about helping to prevent the cycle that often sees people returning to life unhoused. Current models of service are “not very good at helping people to integrate and be useful in homelessness. And so, that was the impetus for conducting this project,” Marshall explained.
The researchers released two reports after studies were done across the municipalities of Kingston and London, Ontario. The Kingston report, “Beyond Surviving,” describes a participatory project aimed at identifying the strengths and challenges of the system of support currently offered to individuals as they leave homelessness.
“While unhoused, persons who have experienced homelessness are frequently consumed with securing the necessary conditions to meet their basic needs including finding a place to stay for the night, finding food, and keeping safe. In other words, they are simply trying to survive,” it reads.
However, the report points out that it is often assumed that, with a secure tenancy, individuals are all set :
“Unfortunately, recent research suggests that many people who secure housing after homelessness languish and continue to live in a state of survival… being integrated into their community, having enough money to pay for basic needs, attaining mental well-being, and having opportunities to engage in meaningful activities are similarly important.”
Researchers with the University of Western Ontario used a ‘Community-Based Participatory Research’ approach to develop a ‘Peer to Community’ (P2C) pilot in both cities. Over 100 interviews were conducted in Kingston and London, reports have been written on the consultations, and collaborations and partnerships between service organizations, concerned citizens, and individuals with lived experience have been developed.
Marshall and Kiwala hope the information collected in the report will “inform recommendations for refining existing supports that will enable individuals to move beyond surviving after leaving homelessness and thrive in their community after.”
“We presented these reports to multiple stakeholders in Kingston and in London… [and] held a number of community events where we co-designed something that would fill a gap in these two communities,” said Marshall.
She calls the model the cooperative groups created a “dream and an invention,” forged by both policymakers and persons with lived experience of homelessness.
And now the pilot project is taking its first steps, said Marshall, “We’ve dreamed this up and we can fund this… we were just notified yesterday that on a first try we have received a grant of $730,000 [from Canadian Institute of Health Research] to pilot this approach across Kingston and London.”
The next step is to launch a twelve-month “peer to community” pilot project in both municipalities.
“We are poised to take the next steps in developing this pilot and are creating a Housing First fidelity measure, along with educational models that will be the basis of training as we go forward,” said Kiwala.
“There really is nothing that is like this service,” she explained. “I know this will fill a very specific void, and if we can keep people housed, I believe that we have a real possibility to make a dent in homelessness across the province.”
This is where the Anglican Church of Canada can help, they hope. The team is applying to the Church to use the Habitat for Humanity-built ministry site at a church-owned property on Adelaide Street as a hub of their activities.
“We have had some communication since last week about the Anglican diocese building as being a possible location. We haven’t done a site visit yet, but we will likely within the next week, and we can update the community when an agreement has been reached,” Marshall explained.
That support looks strong given the comments of Rt. Rev. Michael Oulton, Bishop of Ontario, who said “We are called to respect the dignity of every human being and what you’re doing here, and what I’ve heard today and the ethos of this, is that you are developing a program that really lives up to that.”