Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Today is a sad day at Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA); we are deeply saddened over the death of one of our own. A homeless gentleman that accessed our drop-in services, had been housed, was in search of new housing, and came to ACSA to connect with friends and community. He died last night in a way that is so difficult to imagine and should simply never happen in a city like Toronto; he died homeless and in a shelter he stayed in to protect himself from the elements. There are so many things wrong with this picture.
ACSA is a multi-service agency in Scarborough, serving community members including those that are homeless and marginally housed – through the provision of drop-in, street outreach, housing help, and case management services.
Our Street Outreach Services team had begun working with this gentleman in May 2014, after the City had posted a notice to clear his encampment near our agency. We completed an intake process with him and set up follow-up appointments. We met with him to better understand what his housing requirements were – how much he could afford, where he wanted to live and what type of unit he was seeking. We developed personalized housing lists that were customized to his housing requirements and needs, and provided him with as many linkages, both within ACSA and within the community, as we possibly could during our interactions.
He accessed meals within our drop-in program, and medical services to support his health needs. We knew him to be friendly, considerate, respectful, with an easy smile and warm personality. He had many friends and was well-liked in the community, and today and in the days to come there are many mourning his death.
We coached him on how to develop positive rapport with landlords while searching for housing with him. We offered to make phone calls on his behalf to find out the availability of units. Eventually he found a place in November, and the ACSA outreach team provided him with resources to obtain furniture. Workers connected with him after he was housed and he indicated that all was going well. By early January, he came to ACSA and informed us that he was interested in looking for other housing, as things were not progressing as he had hoped. Outreach provided him with new housing lists and he was encouraged to continue to come back to ACSA to meet with staff to discuss his options.
Working with those most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities takes persistence, a fair bit of assertiveness and ongoing relationship-building to unpack the complex issues they face that may eventually lead them to losing their housing and living on the streets. We clearly have a housing crisis in our City, and we are in dire need of more community-based mental health supports. We continue to tell the stories of the people we serve and we continue to work with our elected officials to improve a system that isn’t meeting the needs of those most vulnerable in our communities.
Scarborough has few shelter options for our street homeless clients – Homes First Scarborough Shelter at 3576 St. Clair Avenue (near Kennedy); Dixon Hall’s Heyworth House at 2714 Danforth Avenue (just west of Victoria Park); Second Base Youth Shelter at 702 Kennedy Road (south of Eglinton); along with family shelters including: Birkdale Residence at 1229 Ellesmere (near Midland), and Family Residence at 4222 Kingston Road (near Galloway).
ACSA will continue with its commitment to bringing services to those most in need. Our ACSA Outreach team has been to the encampment site numerous times today, looking to offer supports to anyone that may need someone to talk to, or help finding a place to live. We will be here again bright and early tomorrow morning to open our doors to grieving friends in the community. There will be angry feelings, feelings of hopelessness and despair and many that will once again ask the question, why did this happen to our friend? We will listen, and offer whatever supports we can to ease the pain and suffering of our clients during this difficult time.
We will meet with our city officials. We will continue to work together to find viable, long term, sustainable solutions that speak to lack of affordable housing in Toronto. We will continue to advocate for a system that takes care of all its citizens because we obviously need to do better.