The Ottawa Mission has come a long way since it began as a humble shelter for homeless men back in 1906.
What started as a haven of warmth and food has become an array of support services whose goal is to change lives for the better. A home of one’s own is perhaps the greatest symbol of a healthy and productive life in our society.
The Mission’s Manager of Housing Services, Marc Gallant, recognizes that “shelters will always be necessary, but they have a critical role to play in ending homelessness.”
The strategy is powerful. Being Housing-Focused is a collaborative effort across The Mission’s various departments to help guests from the moment they arrive to prepare and transition to live independently.
“Our Housing Department was created from our most recent strategic planning phase,” says Marc, “because we identified that our housing services had been growing.”
Guests may arrive at The Mission for only a short stay and may never need any staff involvement. Others may require a lot more staff and program support.
Client Services was the umbrella department for many programs, but a plan was needed to reflect the growth and variety of housing services, and so, in May 2019, the new Housing Services Department was created. It currently has 7 staff members. Two additional staff positions have had a huge impact. A Shelter-Based Case Manager is on site to meet new guests and support the intake process, which is done through a guided script and questions.
At that point, other options for safe, alternative housing are explored. If none are available, guests are given a list of resources, both internal and external, and that gets the housing conversation started.
The other responsibility of our Housing Department is to engage and meet with our guests to identify and work towards a housing plan.
The Housing Department oversees two buildings, and the two 2nd stage homes located in the Ottawa Community.
“We want to try and make someone’s stay with us as brief as possible,” shares Marc, “but to become housing focused entails much more than just a dedicated housing department. It means a change in the culture of how we think about shelters and the delivery of services.”
A housing-focused shelter recognizes that housing is a human right because it provides wellness, dignity, and the ability to live a wholesome life. Its aim is to make the experience of homelessness as brief as possible. Housing-Focused is compassionate and low barrier, recognizing that a shelter is not a home, and that guests deserve more.
One such guest is Michel, who has recently set up his own apartment at one of The Mission’s community housing locations.
“It’s lovely,” beams Michel. “Hardwood floors. Large one bedroom. My kitchen’s super big!”
A bonus for this recent graduate of the Food Services Training Program (FSTP) who is about to start a job with a booming Ottawa coffee and food company.
Michel is not shy about his past. A young man living with the stress and anxiety that comes with growing up in a violent home where dealing drugs seemed to be the only way to make money and cope.
He shared his history with the audience of the FSTP graduation ceremony.
“I ended up at The Mission, court ordered six months. It was either go to jail or come here. When the cops came, it ruined all the trust I had built up with my family,” he shared earnestly. “Luckily there was the trauma services and the addiction program.”
Michel eventually met Chef Ric and learned about the FSTP.
Today Michel is clean, trained, employed, housed, and loves going to the gym. Michel was a lost soul for most of his troubled life. His own home was not a place of security, but rather one of fear.
For Michel, family meant uncertainty and loss rather than roots and wings. It took a court order for him to learn about a set of supportive programs at The Mission that helped him truly find his way home.
The Mission has taken on the feeling of a family for Michel, and he looks forward to returning as a volunteer “because the place has done so much for me. It’s time to give back.”
Your kind support of a number of essential Ottawa Mission programs has helped Michel and many others along their journey home.
At this time when days grow brighter and Easter approaches, please remember that your donations bring light into many troubled lives. Thank you!