TORONTO, March 28, 2019 /CNW/ - Dixon Hall is proud to release Calling Home: Exploring Homelessness in our City, the agency's first major research report. The report shares findings from a year-long research project, designed to improve understanding of individuals in the homeless community who access the Out of the Cold (OOTC) program, but resist the traditional shelter system. The project also tested an element of technology, providing participants with a complimentary cellphone courtesy of Freedom Mobile, to keep in contact throughout the various phases of research.
Data was captured using a community-based participatory research approach, connecting closely with a select group of OOTC guests through a series of focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one interviews. In addition, the same data was collected from a select group of residents from Heyworth House shelter, to compare and contrast experiences between the groups. The report culminates in a series of recommendations to improve systems and social services within the city of Toronto to combat the homelessness crisis.
"Dixon Hall is taking steps to play an even bigger role in better understanding the needs of those experiencing homelessness, so that we can continue to educate the wider population of the city on how to address what is already and acute need" explains Mercedes Watson, Chief Executive Officer, Dixon Hall. "This study highlights some of the challenges faced by those most effected by homelessness. We were deliberate with our approach to the research that sought input from people in our communities with the lived experiences – their insight is where the solutions lie and where more innovative and sustainable options can be found."
Through the Calling Home project, a clearer picture of the experiences of chronic users of the Out of the Cold program has emerged. Based on the research, OOTC guests have on average been homeless twice as long as shelter residents. Job loss and income were the highest self-reported causes of homelessness. The project also found a strong link between homelessness and health challenges, particularly concerning mental health, addictions, and mobility issues. According to participant responses, OOTC guests living with addictions have been on average homeless twice as long as those living without addiction. OOTC guests also self-reported living with addictions more frequently than shelter users. Mobility issues were strongly linked to poverty and homelessness through the research, with guests who experience mobility issues having lower income and being without housing longer than their counterparts.
Data collected also captured the whereabouts of OOTC guests during the off season. The large majority of participants remained in the city of Toronto during the summer and cited a variety of OOTC program alternatives. OOTC guests reported they used 24-hour respite sites, couch-surfed or stayed with friends and family, or slept on the streets. Cellphones proved to be an asset to the project and to the homeless community, with the majority of participants reporting they intended to continue their plan post project completion. The main ways in which they benefited from cell phone use were by looking up weather, making phone calls, using the phone's alarm, accessing WiFi, and connecting easily with others, including Housing Support Workers. Cellphones helped decrease isolation and provided capacity to connect to additional social services.
Based on feedback from participants and research analysis, the report recommends the city of Toronto prioritize consistent creation of deeply affordable housing, investing in additional supportive housing to aid the transition of individuals out of the shelter system, and continue to fund and champion front-line workers who are crucial to working collaboratively with the homeless community to find housing opportunities. Further recommendations include creating community engagement opportunities for the homeless community, as study participants directly requested peer workshops, skills development, and support in finding employment.
"There are immediate needs that must be addressed to stem this growing crisis, including a severe lack of deeply affordable housing" said David Reycraft, Housing Services Director, Dixon Hall. "However, just meeting the immediate need will not solve the problem of homelessness. What is required, and what we seek to highlight through our research, is the need for a system-level approach to addressing the issues faced by the city of Toronto's homeless population, so that we can have a city that works for all of us."
The "Calling Home" project and report was made possible through funding from the Government of Canada's Innovative Solutions to Homelessness program. The full report, including complete findings and recommendations is available for download on the Dixon Hall website at www.dixonhall.org
About Dixon Hall
Dixon Hall is a multi-service agency located in east downtown Toronto. For 90 years, Dixon Hall has offered over 60 supportive programs and services to seniors, youth, men and women experiencing homelessness, the unemployed, and other vulnerable populations in Toronto.
About Out of the Cold
The OOTC program is offered by faith-based organizations who open their places of worship to Toronto's homeless during the winter months. The program is delivered by thousands of volunteers each season. Dixon Hall works with the 16 faith-based organizations who offer the OOTC program, providing support in ensuring certain shelter standards are met and case management is delivered in order to provide program guests with an opportunity to seek housing solutions.
OOTC guests receive a safe and warm place to stay and two nutritious meals. In addition, some sites provide more supports including clothing, nursing care, and laundry facilities. Each site provides shelter once a week from November – April annually. Since 2003, Dixon Hall, supported by the City of Toronto, has provided management and operations support to the faith groups who run the Out of the Cold program.
SOURCE Dixon Hall
For further information: Christopher A. Trotman, Communications Consultant, Dixon Hall, Tele: 647-202-0114, Email: [email protected]