We’ve heard it hundreds of times: “Stay home. Wash your hands. Go out only when you need necessary supplies. Limit your contact with people and stay two meters apart.” These guidelines are very easy to follow when you have a safe home to spend time in. When you are without a home, it’s nearly impossible. This is why the Housing Team at Boyle Street Community Services works so hard to house clients.
They operate on the principles of Housing First, which stipulates that finding safe, affordable housing should be the priority when assisting a client who comes to Boyle Street.
“When someone is experiencing homelessness, a lot of time is spent trying to survive and meet basic needs; therefore, housing options that have strict prerequisites like being employed, maintaining sobriety or being active in programming are not always achievable," explains Ashley Lazowski, Housing Services Manager at Boyle Street. "With Housing First, the first step is finding housing and once the foundation and security of a home is established, we can then address all other areas that they want to work on."
The Housing Team has had to get creative during the COVID-19 pandemic when looking for homes for their clients. Working with landlords across the city, they’ve organized several FaceTime viewings of apartments and homes between landlords and clients. Often, a client says they will just take anything, to be able to be safe at home during the pandemic. Housing workers like to present options so that the client can feel most at home once they’ve moved in.
One of the things that Ashley has found frustrating during this pandemic has been how authorities expect everyone to follow directives, even when it’s nearly impossible for the community we serve.
“How can you wash your hands, stay home and self-isolate if you’re feeling unwell if you don’t have a home?” Ashley explains. “How can you stock up if you don’t have anywhere to keep food or the budget to do large shopping trips? It’s not realistic for our community to follow those guidelines until they are housed.”
Once housed, many of their clients have been struggling during the pandemic. Individuals who use substances are experiencing the stress, anxiety and isolation of the pandemic but are now without some of the supports they previously had. Many are feeling lonely and isolated without technology to call friends and family. Even those with a phone often do not have anyone to call, as their street friends and family often don’t have the same access to that technology. The one thing that many clients miss the most is the sense of community that Boyle Street Community Services offers. Even though they have homes, clients will still come by for a cup of coffee, a meal or a chat. They miss their friends at the Centre, as well as the many supports that are offered through the Centre.
Through our various locations and services, Boyle Street is often the first point of contact for many individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Many inner-city organizations utilize a coordinated service delivery model to effectively identify and connect with those requiring housing support. Boyle Street works closely with Homeward Trust to provide a spectrum of housing options. Through this support and the hard work and creativity of the Housing First program, Boyle Street staff house many individuals, couples and families every day.
As the province begins to reopen with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic loosening, it is easy to see just how important having a safe and stable home is. The Housing Team at Boyle Street does an amazing job at keeping our community safe, and their work is a testament to the resilience of our community.