“Homelessness results from a complex marginalization and exclusion process”
In 2009, Dianova Canada created a new service of “social housing with community support” to meet the needs of those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The first rooming house was opened in downtown Montreal, with capacity for 21 people; in November 2014, this capacity was doubled with the opening of a second building in Montreal’s popular borough of Hochelaga.
Bruno Ferrari, Director General of Dianova Canada, explains to us the situation of the homeless in Quebec and what kind of responses are given to this phenomenon. Thereafter he tells us how these new services were created by Dianova and why.
Could you briefly describe homelessness?
When we think of the homeless, we tend to imagine an alcoholic in extreme precariousness, lying on a park bench. But these chronically homeless individuals represent only the visible part of the phenomenon. There is also a situational homelessness, much more frequent but much less visible, which can be defined as the status of being forced to live without proper housing, due to a specific emergency. The people concerned usually become homeless for a while before they can manage to renew social contacts and find a new place to live. Lastly, there is what we call cyclical or episodic homelessness, i.e. when a person repeatedly falls in and out of homelessness.
In fact, homelessness cannot be described per se. This is not about certain people’s specific profiles. Much more than this, it is a complex marginalization and exclusion process which leads some people to the streets. Homelessness is multifaceted. First, there are the structural causal factors, that is, all that is related to poverty, unemployment and the lack of affordable housing.
At the most basic economical perspective, it must be emphasized that homelessness is mainly due to poverty, to unemployment. The poor simply can’t afford adequate housing!
There are also personal factors, that is all the problems experienced by people, such as family conflict, sexual abuse, violence, the fact of having been sent repeatedly to juvenile centers. In addition, there are all the circumstances that can weaken the individuals and contribute to homelessness or worsen people’s living conditions: the latter include physical and mental health problems, substance abuse, including alcohol and other drugs, and pathological gambling.
Are the responses given to the homeless problem adapted?
Unfortunately, all the parties involved in this field must face a paradoxical situation. Since the 2008 crisis and because of unemployment and poverty being on the rise since, we’ve had to deal with increased homelessness and profiles increasingly diverse and complex, but with much fewer financial resources. To give you an example, the government has recently decided to allocate 60% of federal funds dedicated to homelessness to the “Housing First” model, which is a way of completely altering the traditional general approach developed so far in Quebec, which includes prevention activities, street work, social housing with community support, etc.
The “Housing First” model is primarily intended for chronically homeless people, its philosophy is rather simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive services to address people’s other needs, with support from community organizations. In other words, the model addresses the most visible homeless individuals. It’s certainly a useful model, however, it cannot meet all the various needs of an increasingly diverse and heterogeneous population.
The network established for years in Montreal is quite realistic: we address vulnerable people, we give them a leg up through various methods and projects, we encourage them to go a little farther in their lives. And if they happen to fall back on the street, the members of the community network will be there to help them. These are projects that are useful too, but due to the fact that the “Housing First” model consumes 60% of resources, some of them will have to be shut down.
How did the Dianova project for the homeless emerge?
Some years ago Dianova had been faced with significant management problems, so we had to develop complementary activities, which had to be financially sustainable. So we started looking for our natural partners. Later on Dianova became a member of RAPSIM (support network for homeless people in Montreal). This partnership allowed us to better understand the problem and to position ourselves as an actor in this network.
In 2008 an opportunity arose with a new call for projects from the federal government. What prompted us to embark in this project was the possibility to partner with a Technical Resource Group, i.e., a non-profit organization in charge of all the technical complexities inherent in any building project for social housing.
At the time this Technical Resource Group had a full-fledged turnkey project, including an accepted offer and an agreement with the federal government. All that remained was a project leader. Therefore, we began by opening our first rooming house in downtown Montreal, the house Saint-André. And further on, in late 2014, we doubled our capacity with the opening of a second house on Aylwin street in Montreal’s Hochelaga borough.
Tenants who enter the program are subsidized, meaning that their contribution is capped at 25% of their income. For example, if a person has a $ 800 monthly income, their rent will not exceed $ 200 (the average rent for a room in the same area is $ 450). The municipal housing service pays us the difference. It’s a stable, well-defined financial framework, sufficient to carry out our mission.
Who is the target audience and what kind of support do they get?
Both projects are aimed at single people, over 18, homeless or at risk of homelessness, in a situation of extreme precariousness and without any possibility of access to private homes, because of lack of sufficient income.
In our housing model, people have the right to stay as long as they wish. One must understand that our rooms are certainly very comfortable and equipped with a kitchenette, but they are still just single rooms with communal showers and restrooms. This means that should the conditions of existence of people improve sufficiently, they will naturally tend to move to other types of accommodation.
In terms of support, Dianova has chosen a model of “passive” community support. One of our employees is in the building, his task is to ensure social peace and he’s got to oversee that the conditions of hygiene and security for all are maintained. He also has to respond to the requests from tenants.
Some people will request for an active and very close support, because they feel they may not be self-reliant enough, on the other hand, others may prefer a more flexible framework, as the one we propose.
Who is part of the staff in Dianova’s rooming houses?
Primarily, there is the staff needed to meet obligations related to the management of any rooming house; a manager, an accountant and administrative assistant. In addition, we also have a psychosocial worker for each building, who is also responsible of attending to any requests from the tenants for community assistance, in particular in terms of assistance for job searches. These psychosocial workers come from an internal recruitment procedure, i.e., they are addiction professionals who have followed subsequent training courses tailored to their current job. Finally, we have a maintenance officer and a number of volunteers
Do you have any new project on the back burner?
We’ve just obtained an agreement to integrate the TAPAJ program to Dianova activities, starting this fall. It is a model initially implemented by the “Spectre de Rue” organization in Montreal; the program provides beneficiaries with an opportunity to be employed and paid for each day, for one or more days – TAPAJ means “alternative work paid for on a daily basis.”.
The objective of TAPAJ is to help people get back to work, earn a living and get accustomed to work life through a non-binding contract model. The project will be accessible to anyone interested, but it will be primarily aimed at the beneficiaries of our rooming houses.