Funding backs unique shelter-to-housing plan

Adela Talbot // Western News

Nursing professor Abe Oudshoorn is leading a 14-month demonstration project with the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, looking to transform emergency shelter space into affordable housing with supports.

Abe Oudshoorn knows emergency shelters have the potential to transition into permanent housing.

Now, with funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the Western Nursing professor and member of the Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty aims to demonstrate the possibilities of such transitions as a means of addressing homelessness.

In collaboration with Occupational Therapy professor Carrie Marshall and Nursing professor Deanna Befus, and through the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion, Oudshoorn is leading a 14-month demonstration project with the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, looking to transform emergency shelter space into affordable housing with supports. Earlier this month, CMHC announced the initiative was one of nine funded projects under the National Housing Strategy (NHS) Demonstrations Initiative.

“Across the housing and homelessness sectors, we are working diligently to focus on permanent housing solutions as rapidly as possible, using models like Housing First. As that work is progressing, it means we are in the fortunate situation of emergency shelters having some additional space,” Oudshoorn noted.

“As folks are rapidly rehoused, we don’t need as much emergency shelter. Emergency shelters have a lot of great experience, resources and staff. We are thinking about how we can optimize those existing spaces to do good work in the sector. Where we have gaps is housing options for people; one option being considered is how emergency shelter space can be transformed into permanent housing with support.”

Oudshoorn’s project includes evaluation of an existing floor of rental units on site at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, 281 Wellington St., as well as the addition of a new floor of units focused on substance use recovery, including a peer support model. The aim is to showcase how emergency shelters can successfully transition to affordable housing with support functions, he explained.

“From the research side, the academic questions are, ‘Is this a good idea? Is anyone actually going to want to live in an emergency shelter?’ There are potential downsides, but there are potential upsides, in terms of staff on site with expertise. Maybe this is a space where people are comfortable; maybe it’s where they have lived before and now are willing to make a more permanent home,” Oudshoorn said.

Researchers will, over time, also evaluate the well-being of individuals who live in this supported housing model. As the Salvation Army is attaching specific supports around recovery and substance abuse, they will likewise look at whether such supports work and whether it helps individuals move forward in their recovery journey, whether they are satisfied with such supported housing and what the long-term housing outcomes are from this model.

“The positive side is that the Salvation Army already has been doing this for several years. We are able to jump right in with our first questions of what it’s like to live there and why people are choosing to live there,” Oudshoorn continued.

The next step – and the most challenging part – will be on the research side, as following people over time is always difficult. Researchers hope to see individuals stay long-term in both recovery and in residence but know recovery is not necessarily a straight line, as is the case with housing for those who may be at street-level.

In London, there are more than 4,000 people on a waitlist for housing. This is a promising option for some, Oudshoorn noted.

“This is national and it’s attached to the National Housing Strategy funding. The whole eyes of Canada are on this. With only nine projects funded across the country for this round, it’s really our chance for London to be at the cutting edge of transforming the sector. We are already planning on running workshops for other emergency shelters who are thinking of taking this journey and helping them see what they can learn from what happens here in London.”

Since 2004, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope has been providing pay-for-stay private units in a building that also offers emergency shelter. This model was provided in response to increased demand for supported and affordable housing options. These housing options needed to work for people who had chronically experienced homelessness and were high users of the service.

While scattered-site housing was a choice for some, and Housing First programs facilitate these moves, others sought a higher intensity of on-site support. The Salvation Army Centre of Hope building filled this need, with food security, court services, and financial support services offered on site.

“The shared knowledge gained from the NHS Demonstrations Initiative will help strengthen, better equip and innovate the affordable housing sector in Canada,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“The innovative practices and technologies are an essential step in supporting more Canadians access housing that meet their needs and that they can afford.”