Engaging Communities In First Step Housing And Services

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CD19.6Attachment 2Engagingcommunities inFirst Step Housingand ServicesReport of the facilitator on developinga new framework for siting homelessshelters in the City of TorontoBruce DavisJanuary, 2017

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Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesImagineImagine a city where neighbourhoods welcome our mostvulnerable citizens, where residents and communityorganizations and city government work together to alleviatepoverty and homelessness, where we treat drug addiction asan illness, where neighbours gather together to ask how theycan help, where they respond with kindness when they hearnew housing for homeless men is coming to theirneighbourhood, where they donate food and clothing and toysand toiletries to their neighbourhood drop-in or shelter.Imagine a city where Councillors are vying to cut the ribbonat a new shelter opening, instead of being escorted to theircars by police after a hostile public meeting.This is possible.Toronto is a remarkably generous, respectful, tolerant,welcoming city. Since its inception Toronto hasaccommodated and supported waves of newcomers fromacross Canada and around the world and has been a leader inhousing, health promotion, social justice and communitydevelopment. It boasts a vibrant growing economy, risingproperty values and incredible community assets.3

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesBut we are also a city of poverty, vulnerability, precariousemployment and expensive housing. And when a new facilityto support homeless Torontonians is proposed for aneighbourhood we can also become a harsh city, worriedabout the threat to our safe neighbourhoods and our families.In October 2016 I was retained by the City of Toronto’sShelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) Divisionto facilitate a charrette to bring together government officials,real estate professionals, communications experts, residentsand community groups to look at new ways of introducingnew homeless shelters in Toronto. City officials anticipate thatthey will need to open 10 or more new homeless shelters(some are already underway) in the near future to meet theCity’s goal of reducing shelter occupancy to 90%, and toaccommodate people displaced by the closure of Seatonhouse and several other smaller shelters.Over the course of the past two months I worked withToronto City Councillors Paula Fletcher and Ana Bailão, cochairs of the charrette working group, and city officials fromSSHA, the Affordable Housing Office, the Social Development,Finance and Administration Division, and the City Manager’sOffice to develop a process that would engage charretteparticipants. As part of our process I also met andinterviewed 11 City Councillors, hosted a focus group withcommunity agencies on November 18 and hosted a focusgroup with people experiencing homelessness at the Streetsto Homes Assessment and Referral Centre on Peter Street onNovember 25. Our charrette was held at the 519 CommunityCentre on November 28.A by-product of the process was a public opinion pollconducted by Forum Research, the results of which wereshared by William Schatten, a presenter at our charrette.4

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesThis was an expedited process that started with the premisethat we need to change the conversation and the process. Weneed a new framework.But the process was also heartening. Virtually everyone whowas approached to participate in the process, to give up a halfday or a full day from their busy schedules, immediatelyagreed to participate without reservation. The men andwomen I met at the Peter Street focus group, arguably themost street savvy, cynical participants, turned out--to be full of great ideas and hope. They were alsoThe men and women I met atso incredibly proud to call Toronto home and wantthe Peter Street focus group,this process to be successful.arguably the most streetWhen we set out our mandate was to look atsavvy, cynical participants,community engagement related to new shelterturned out to be full of greatsites and strategies to increase public awarenessideas and hope. They wereabout homelessness, but through ouralso so incredibly proud toconversations it became clear that the model forcall Toronto home and wantproviding shelter services needed to change andthis process to be successful.also that overarching leadership was required.--So this report sets out four key facets to a new framework:changing the conversation, rethinking the model for shelters,authentically engaging communities, and leadership.I would be remiss if I did not thank the many participants inthe process who agreed to be interviewed or who participatedin a focus group or charette. Special thanks are also due tothe incredibly talented team of City of Toronto officials whoassisted on the Charrette Working Group: Costanza Allevato,Melody Brown and Carlos Vazquez of the Social Development,Finance and Administration Division; Mary-Anne Bedard, GordTanner, Geoff Gillard and Emily Kovacs of the SSHA Division;Simon Liston of the Affordable Housing Office; Jodi Callan ofthe City Manager’s Office; Susan Serran of CouncillorFletcher’s office and Rob Cerjanec of Councillor Bailão’s office.5

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesRob Cressman, SSHA's Acting General Manager, gave theprocess his full support.Councillors Fletcher and Bailão spearheaded this initiative andwill play a key role as this framework evolves in the comingmonths. Their leadership has been genuine and supportive ofthe process. Thank you.Bruce Davis, Facilitator10 January, 20176

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesChanging the conversationWords matter.They matter in the workplace, on the sports field, in theschool yard, and they matter when you are standing in acrowded gymnasium or church hall supporting or opposing anew housing development in your neighbourhood.What we heard throughout our process is that we can nolonger accept heated, hurtful, verbal attacks on our mostvulnerable citizens or their supporters or our city councillorsor staff. And likewise we cannot brand all opponents ofhomeless shelters as NIMBY.We heard that we need to change the conversation.First, let’s discard the idea that we are helping “theHomeless”. In the focus group that I facilitated at the Streetsto Homes Assessment and Referral Centre on Peter Street,the participants, all of whom experienced homelessness,wanted to be treated as individuals. This is not about a capital“H” homeless problem.7

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesOne client said “let’s go help Bob or Dwight, not ‘TheHomeless.’”Changing this language also reinforces the need to developstrategies and services to help individuals with their specificneeds: housing, life skills, work, addiction treatment, healthcare.In our focus group with agencies, Paul tackled this issue oflanguage head on when he confronted us with examples ofthe language used by Torontonians in community meetingsand in deputations to City committees when opposing sheltersin their neighbourhood.Take the following examples, cited by Paul:“If we are asking the neighbourhood to accept homelesspeople, let’s give them something good as well.”“We need to get the community involved early. They’rethe ones who know the best place for homeless peopleto go.”Now search and replace the word “homeless” with your ownethnic or racial background or sexual orientation. In my caseit would harken back to Toronto’s 19th century battles:“If we are asking the neighbourhood to accept the Irish,let’s give them something good as well.”You get the idea.Changing the conversation means using respectful, nondiscriminatory language that allows individuals, agencies andpoliticians to be heard, it means running communityengagement processes so that people are not shouted down,and it means that supporters and those with concerns canshare their ideas to make projects better.8

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesIt means using language that does not stigmatize or furtherharm Torontonians who are already at their most vulnerable.One participant at the Referral Centre on Peter Street put itthis way, “I am a human. I have rights. I have emotions. Ihave a voice. I need to be heard. This is my home.”Community members and some Councillors have objected tothe process and the information disseminated at publicmeetings. Changing the conversation includes making surethat information is accurate and timely, and that communitymembers can ask questions without feeling that they areunder fire.The word ‘shelter’ has itself become pejorative.But rather than trying to cynically rebrandhomeless shelters, participants in our processrecommended that we rename these facilities ordescribe them as part of a system of supports, ora continuum of housing. Rather than a homelessshelter being a dead-end, they were seen as atransitional form of housing to allow residents torecover and map out their next steps in housingor health care or job recovery.--Changing the conversationincludes making sure thatinformation is accurate andtimely, and that communitymembers can ask questionswithout feeling that they areunder fire.---The term “transitional housing”, widely accepted by ourparticipants and City Councillors who were interviewed, is aterm that the provincial government uses to define a specifictype of housing support, so rather than muddying thenomenclature waters I suggest a placeholder name, First StepHousing and Services.First Step Housing and Services is meant to convey thetransitional nature of housing for men and women or familieswho are living on the street or fleeing violence or who areunable to manage in traditional accommodation (apartment,9

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and Servicesrooming house, house). Another potential name is BridgeHousing and Service Centres.First Step Housing and Services for Men and Women, FirstStep Housing and Services for Youth, First Step Housing andServices for Families all convey a more positive, hopefuljourney and can also be expanded to include wrap-aroundservices (covered in the next chapter): First Step Housing andServices.An additional component of the need to change theconversation, is the need to educate Torontonians aboutpoverty, housing prices, addiction and mental illness. Wecertainly heard from participants that a city-wide initiative isneeded to fill the knowledge gap -- how can we expectTorontonians to come to the assistance of the mostvulnerable if they don’t know the causes, the magnitude, thesuccesses and of course the human beings behind theheadlines.Filling the knowledge gap also means describing whatservices are being offered by First Step Housing and Servicesand what works.Recently the City of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health andthe Chair of Toronto’s task force on drugs led a process tointroduce new small-scale supervised injection sites as ameans to address overdose deaths and to reduce the harmfrom drug addiction. This process informed Torontonians onhow to make their communities safer and save lives throughthe implementation of supervised injection sites. This type ofcivic leadership is required to communicate the need for moreFirst Step Housing and Services in sites across Toronto.10

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesAdvocates for improved shelter services rely primarily onmoral or human rights arguments in favour of supporting FirstStep Housing and Services; but participants in our charretteand at the agency focus group discussed the need to alsoappeal to the enlightened self-interest of Torontonians: makethe case for more housing by communicating the costs ofpoverty and homelessness.Pauline Larsen of the Downtown Yonge BIA articulated thisargument in an infographic that was shared with charretteparticipants: the cost of homelessness versus the cost ofadditional social housing. Added together, the cost ofshelters, police checks on individuals sleeping outside,overnight hospital stays and correctional institution stays forpeople without permanent accommodation amounted to 421,386 per night in Toronto versus social housing costs of 34,512 per night to accommodate the same number ofpeople.Put more bluntly, a City Councillor said in an interview “doyou want these people sleeping in your ATM or a shelter?”Those are two ways of appealing to the enlightened selfinterest of Torontonians.If we learned anything from the Forum Research poll that waspresented to the charrette it was that Torontonians aredivided: when asked if they would support a homeless shelterin their neighbourhood 36% said ‘yes’, while 32% said ‘no’with the same number either indifferent or don’t know (24% 8%, respectively). Any strategy aimed at changing theconversation about First Step Housing and Services needs tofill the information vacuum that can build support with thismiddle group.11

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesThis research reflects my own experience as a facilitator forseveral housing projects in Toronto, where opponents of aproject might be in a minority but they have adisproportionate impact on the process because of their vocalopposition. Supporters are less inclined to attend a meetingand very few undecideds attend. How these meetings arecommunicated, what is really up for debate, explaining howpeople can make the proposal better, all need to becommunicated clearly.The introduction of First Step Housing and Services alsoneeds to be positioned as a positive event, worth celebrating,instead of a burden or battle.Recommendations to change the conversation:1.It is clear that this issue needs a champion orchampions. The City of Toronto should engagecivic leaders, business leaders, civil societyleaders, faith leaders, youth leaders, eminentpersons, academics and members of the Allianceto End Homelessness to mount a public campaignto be launched in early 2017 that will educateTorontonians about poverty/homelessness andthe potential benefits/successes of First StepHousing and Services and engage them in a newframework to help our most vulnerable residents.2.The City of Toronto should engage internal andexternal public relations, marketingcommunications and public opinion researchprofessionals to develop and implement astrategy to educate Torontonians about povertyand homelessness and engage them in a newframework to help our most vulnerable residents.They can also consider new names for the service.12

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and Services3.Any communications materials should be viewedthrough a lens of minimizing stigma and harm,promoting the rights and needs of individuals andunderscoring the City of Toronto’s existingcommitment to reduce poverty andhomelessness. Public engagement activitiesshould underscore the need for constructive, nonthreatening dialogue.4.Communications materials developed to engagecommunities in new First Step Housing andServices (where this is appropriate) should makeclear what the purpose of the engagement is andwhat is or is not up for debate.13

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Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesRethinking the modelMy mandate as a facilitator and our charrette terms ofreference did not include redesigning the way that shelterservices are provided, but it was clear from all thestakeholders with whom I talked that the concept ofwarehousing people in shelters needs to change.The City of Toronto has made it clear through its decision toclose Seaton House and redevelop George Street that smallerscale developments, integrated with wrap-around servicesand housing options, is the way forward. This was also a cleartheme in our consultations.First Step Housing and Services need to be aligned with othercommunity development and social and employment servicesinside and outside of the City. Housing needs to be integratedwith services, the facility needs to be integrated with otherfacilities, and the entire enterprise of housing and supportingour most vulnerable residents needs to be integrated into thecommunity, not at odds with it.We heard that an inventory of needs and community assetsshould be done in the areas of the city where City officials orhousing service providers think that there are service gaps or15

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and Servicesopportunities – generally in advance of any specific sitesbeing recommended. That is not to say that First StepHousing and Services should only be located where there isalready a concentration of poverty, on the contrary, but theneeds and assets need to be evaluated first.Developing an inventory of community assets will bringtogether community agencies, secular and faith-basedgroups, cultural and business organizations, local politicalleadership, and residents’ organizations. These groups willform the basis for better First Step Housing and Servicesproposals and will identify potential linkages.We heard that First Step Housing and Services shouldlinkages on-site or readily accessible in thecommunity for affordable housing assistance, jobsand life skills training, plus opportunities forcomputer access, culture and recreation. These arefacilities that could also be used by othercommunity members.Just as individuals experiencing homelessness havespecific needs, we heard loud and clear that onesize does not fit all when planning First StepHousing and Services.include--Just as individualsexperiencing homelessnesshave specific needs, weheard loud and clear thatone size does not fit all whenplanning First Step Housingand Services.---We heard that broad access to harm reduction servicesrelated to problematic drug use is critical. In our focus groupat the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre weheard that the intensity of drug use in and near downtownshelters makes the choice to stop using much harder to makeand sustain. We heard that clients need and want smaller,quieter shelters outside of the city core with access to drugtreatment.16

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesOur client focus group also told us that some residents sufferfrom mental illness and that they really need housing andsupports that meet their specific needs.First Step Housing and Services that accommodates families,couples, or 50/50 men/women were also discussed; petswere also a consideration.The current City practice of operating separate shelters formen and women makes siting the men's facilities very difficultbecause of local opposition generated by fears commonlyassociated with single men. This model needs to bereconsidered. If housing and services can be--provided jointly for men and women, why is TorontoCharrette participants feltnot looking at this model? That’s what we heardthat Toronto should seek outfrom our client focus group and from some charrettebest practices in adoptingparticipants.new design and servicestandards for First StepCharrette participants felt that Toronto should seekHousing and Services.out best practices in adopting new design and--service standards for First Step Housing andServices.In terms of integrating housing into the community, it wassuggested that opportunities to integrate First Step Housingand Services into affordable housing or private real estatedevelopments should be pursued. As an example, Red DoorFamily Shelter in east-end Toronto will soon occupy one floorof an eight storey main street condominium building onQueen Street East. This scheme was negotiated by thedeveloper, the City of Toronto, the Red Door Family Shelterand the local Councillor. The inclusion of a shelter did notappear to have any detrimental impact on the marketability ofthe development.17

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and ServicesParticipants suggested that deve

Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and Services 10 rooming house, house). Another potential name is Bridge Housing and Service Centres. First Step Housing and Services for Men and Women, First Step Housing and Services for Youth, First Step Housing and Services