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From Streets to Homes: fight to end street homelessness in Toronto

Many Furniture Bank clients have the need to lean upon multiple sources on their journey towards fresh starts and new possibilities.

Our organization has a long list of partner organizations that complement the services we offer. The Streets to Homes (S2H) program, funded by the City of Toronto and other levels of government, is one such partner.

S2H was created in 2005 in an effort to curb the number of individuals living on the streets of Toronto. The need for such a program was partially fuelled by high-profile examples of widespread homelessness in the city, such as the Tent City community that emerged on the Toronto waterfront during the early 2000s. The mandate of the program was simple: to end street homelessness in Toronto and find housing environments for those living without basic needs.

According to an infographic published by the City of Toronto in late 2012, more than 3,800 clients have been housed by S2H and partner agencies since the program’s 2005 inception.

A considerable effort is needed to fully transition even a single client from the city streets into comfortable, personalized accommodation. However, with 25 partner agencies and a legacy approaching the decade mark, S2H continues to move forward in its efforts to help Toronto’s homeless.

“Housing is one thing but it doesn’t really become a home until you furnish it,” says Gord Tanner, manager of the S2H program. “Furniture Bank has been an important partner for us because it helps create those ‘homes’ for our clients. I’d estimate 90-95 per cent of the people we house become Furniture Bank clients as well.”

There is a degree of commonality to the individuals that S2H helps most often. Approximately 75 per cent of its clients are male. Aboriginal populations have a heavy representation and a majority of the clients classify as long-term homeless (i.e. people who had been homeless for over a year).

These are challenging populations to service because of the deep-rooted social and economic issues that these individuals face. However, as a veteran social worker with more than 15-years experience in helping others, Tanner has seen numerous turnarounds emerge from S2H’s efforts.

“One of the most memorable success stories [ of S2H] is when we were able to help a lady who was living on the streets for over a decade. After that much time, adjusting to housing can be a real challenge when you’re accustomed to sleeping on grates or in parks for so many years. In this case, the program worked and she now wants to volunteer, build her skills and help give back to others. It’s been an amazing process to witness.”

In late 2010, the City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre opened on Peter Street in downtown Toronto. This impressive facility gave the program a boosted image and an upsized outlook from which to coordinate mobile street outreach services in the downtown core and in other parts of the city.

However, with more than 5,000 individuals still in shelters, on the street, in corrections and health care facilities as a whole, there continues to be no shortage of clients for programs such as S2H. Luckily, the dedication of the program and its partners (including Furniture Bank) means that these populations can rebound when provided with a helping hand.

As Tanner notes, “As an organization, [Furniture Bank] has always been a remarkable partner with respect to choice that they offer their clients. They are treated like customers in a retail space and make choices based on their style and comfort preferences. That ability to choose is a very powerful thing on the road to change.”

Cam is a Toronto-based PR professional and freelance writer. He volunteers his time to write for Furniture Bank. Follow him on Twitter at @cam_gordon.