Housing Access Support Services
Q: What’s the difference between a house and a home?
Fred Victor Housing Support Workers will tell you there’s a big difference between a house which is a roof over your head, and a home where a person is settled into a space and comfortably connected to themselves, their friends and their neighbourhood.
Fred Victor’s Housing Access and Support Services (HASS) are in the business of finding homes for people who have been homeless. They reach into the community and meet with individuals wherever they are — in shelters, hostels, community centres and drop-in-centres.
Workers maintain a relationship with each newly-housed person for at least one full year after they’re housed to give them the opportunity to begin new lives and develop a real home. 80 per cent of the people housed by Fred Victor staff maintain their housing for more than one year.
As housing access workers at Fred Victor, every day, we reach out and connect with people who need help. But it’s not only homeless people we meet with; these days many people are so marginalized that singles and families who are at risk of losing their homes turn to us as well. Knowing we are able to step in and find a way to prevent an eviction is an extremely rewarding part of the job.
Another essential part of our job is reaching the many young Aboriginal people living on the streets. To address this, we have been advocating for increased housing and community support services.
We volunteer our time at community fairs, and work in partnership with Native Child and Family Services, Aboriginal Legal Services , Toronto and the Community Council, Council Fire and Anishnawbe Health Centre.
Three years ago, we teamed up with fellow HASS workers to organize a First Nations Day in Moss Park. The now annual event, supported by Fred Victor, creates awareness within the community that is home to many of our clients. For this event, we partner with groups that display crafts, showcase dancing and drumming, serve traditional meals and provide information about support services.
Being a housing access worker means so much more than simply helping people find places to live; it means reaching out, speaking up and being there for everyone and anyone.
Two New HASS Programs in 2011
Addictions Supportive Housing Project (ASH)
Fred Victor hired a staff person in the new Addictions Supportive Housing Project (ASH) in Spring 2011. This person gives intensive, hands-on, practical support to newly-housed people who have been living ‘rough’ or in temporary settings such as acute inpatient beds, Emergency Detox beds, mental health units, infirmary programs and emergency shelters throughout the City of Toronto. These are people who are absolutely homeless – mostly sleeping outside - who have complex needs that have not been met by the network of outreach providers in Toronto. The goal of support workers is to help the newly-housed person to create a home where they are stable, well-connected in their neighbourhood and community, and able to maintain their housing.
Eight single units of housing are available for Fred Victor’s housing access and support workers to fill. The project is made possible through referral arrangements with the Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team (MDOT) — a group of health professionals and housing workers who travel in a van throughout the city to find and talk to people who are living rough on the street. There are also agreements with the City and other agencies that help co-ordinate the care of these previously homeless people.
Housing Access and Support Services for Newcomers (HASS-New)
In July 2010, Fred Victor, in collaboration with the Learning Enrichment Foundation — a non-profit organization that helps immigrants access services, bridge language barriers and get recognition for foreign credentials — published a report titled Hidden: Newcomer experiences of homelessness at Fred Victor and The Learning Enrichment Foundation.
The report found that if people who were new to Canada did not become settled in communities with affordable, secure housing within the first two to three years of being in Canada, they were vulnerable to becoming chronically homeless, their health deteriorated and their capacity to adapt to Canada likewise deteriorated. Newcomers, in general, had difficulty finding their way into housing access programs and affordability was the primary barrier to them finding housing.
HASS-New is Fred Victor and the Learning Enrichment Foundation’s answer to two of the report’s recommendations:
1. Develop partnerships between housing/homelessness services and settlement services.
2. Foster working relationships to share expertise, resources and referrals between housing/homelessness and settlement services.
HASS-New helps newcomers:
• develop relationships with landlords
• search for housing, attend interviews with housing providers, move-in and find support service agencies
• create a housing plan which includes orientation, assessment, action planning and referrals that address their settlement needs
• learn about their responsibilities as tenants, the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) especially in areas of non-payment of rent and breach of obligations under the RTA
• negotiate and deal with conflict with landlords
Streets to Homes Follow-up Supports and MDOT
There are two programs at HASS that work in partnership with the City’s Streets to Homes Program (S2H). Housing Access and Support Services staff do intensive follow-up with people who have been living on the streets of Toronto and have been housed by S2H. As well, Fred Victor’s housing access staff participates in the Mobile Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team (MDOT) which is a van that travels around the city and gives medical and psychiatric care to people living on the streets who have mental illness.