There are over 8,000 people in Toronto without a safe stable place to live. Hundreds live “rough” in ravines, stairwells or on the street. Hundreds more suffer with mental health and addictions issues. This forgotten slice of our population, people who have been street-involved for several years and who have nowhere else to go, is where Homes First comes in. We provide Housing First. We were the first and remain one of the largest providers of homes for people with the fewest options in Toronto.
Homes First has been providing supportive housing and shelter for over 35 years to all populations, with a focus on the chronically homeless, people with complex mental health and addictions issues, and seniors. We encourage homeless people to identify their own housing needs and necessary support services. We work with others to provide the supports people need to maintain their housing and rebuild their lives. We accept referrals from and draw on the knowledge and experience of other community service organizations to support our residents.
Homes First currently operates 10 emergency shelters and 14 housing sites, providing a home and support to more than 1,400 seniors, families, and single adults. Our shelters and housing programs are located throughout Toronto. To learn more about how we operate, see our Strategic Plan.
Homes come in many shapes and sizes but each is a safe, stable refuge and allows us to connect to others. Everyone needs a home. With a home, people can be part of a community, obtain ID, register for social services, and keep in touch with family and friends. With a home, people gain respect, dignity and the ability to care for themselves and others.
The housing first approach was pioneered by Homes First over 30 years ago. Through experience and research we know that:
People need a home before they can begin to work on other issues. With a home, people can build a future. They have a better chance of integrating into society. They are healthier. They rely less on social and health services. The vast majority of people experiencing homelessness – even those with severe mental health and/or substance use issues – can successfully stay housed and off the street with appropriate housing and supports.
In the early 1980s, several individuals who worked for housing agencies across the city of Toronto were at a social gathering, lamenting the difficulty in finding housing for their clients who had issues such as addictions or undiagnosed mental health. Then one of them said, “Couldn’t we just get our clients homes first?”
Over time and across Canada, much has been learned about the housing first principle and methodology that forms the foundation of the Homes First mandate. We are recognized as a long-term leader in servicing people who are homeless and considered the “hardest to house”.
In 1984, Homes First opened Shuter Street, the first building in Toronto to house previously homeless single adults. It won the Ontario award for Outstanding Model project in 1987, the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. We have maintained a leadership role in the sector ever since, mostly recently winning the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s Award for Excellence in 2017.
In 1989, Homes First opened Street City, a converted warehouse designed as a self-contained village complete with streets, housing units, a variety store and an internally-run “bank”. StreetCity was created as an alternative to traditional shelters, which were often overcrowded, unsafe and intolerant of people with severe mental health and addictions issues. StreetCity became home to seventy men and women who had never accessed the emergency housing system. The first of its kind, it became a model for other projects in Canada and the United States including our own Strachan House.