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  • Oct23Thu

    An Open Door

    The Salvation Army's Toronto Housing and Homeless Supports provide help, healing and hope. October 23, 2014 Story by Giselle Randall and photos by Warren Pot
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    Every night, at least 30,000 Canadians sleep on the streets, in an emergency shelter or in temporary accommodations. Thousands more live in precarious situations, at risk for homelessness. The causes of homelessness are complex, with structural and individual factors at work—poverty, high housing costs, family violence, mental health disorders and addiction.

    In Toronto, five Salvation Army shelters—Maxwell Meighen Centre, Hope Shelter, Gateway, Florence Booth House and Evangeline Residence—offer an open door, welcome and support to people in crisis. Recently integrated under Toronto Housing and Homeless Supports, these shelters meet basic needs for food, shelter and clothing, as well as provide pastoral care, addictions counselling and housing help.

    “We are moving from services that are grounded in an emergency response to an integrated approach to housing stability,” says Bradley Harris, executive director, Toronto Housing and Homeless Supports. “We want to help people find—and keep—permanent housing. That means offering programs that will work for each person who turns to The Salvation Army for assistance. There is no 'one size fits all' solution.” Life skills, health care, outreach, art and game nights, sports events and a drop-in program all build community and help people reach their goals.

    “When people come through our doors, we want our staff to treat them as human beings created in the image of God—as equals,” says Dion Oxford, director of mission integration for the shelters. “It's not a handout or a hand up. We want to hold out our flawed hands and offer to walk through this thing called life together.”


    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Gateway Linens is a social-enterprise program that offers employment to shelter residents, many of whom want to work but have been deemed “unemployable.” With training and support, participants regain the confidence and skills needed to become marketable again. Gateway Linens does the laundry for all five Salvation Army shelters in Toronto and several other businesses.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Martin checks Gateway's lineup for the season opener of the Downtown East End Softball League, with teams from various shelters and drop-in centres. The team is made up of current and past residents, community members and staff. Martin has been Gateway's team captain for eight years. He recently found permanent housing but still visits friends at the shelter. Gateway participates in the Army's softball tournament at Jackson's Point Camp every year.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Richard uses pen and ink to experiment with lines, form and shape at Gateway's art night. “I used to do a lot of drawing and painting and I'm getting back into it. Art is a good therapy tool,” he says. “Things that are bothering me are excused from my mind while I concentrate on the work. It makes me realize that there is at least this one aspect of myself that hasn't diminished and is being preserved, even through the hard times. Instead of wringing my hands over what anxieties might be worrying me, as I draw or paint, my mind stretches back to better and happier times—many of which did involve art— and I have a more positive outlook.”

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Darrin Murphy, an addictions counsellor at Maxwell Meighen Centre, meets with Shane, who will soon enter the Harbour Light treatment program.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Darlene Gumbs, a housing worker at Maxwell Meighen Centre, helps Nohe apply for income assistance

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Ieshia has been at Florence Booth House, a women's shelter, for two weeks. “I went down to my lowest. I didn't have a place to stay. I was on the street,” she says. “It was bad. Rough.” Somebody told her about the shelter. “Here I have a roof over my head, I have food to eat.” She's now in a substance-abuse program, and hopes to get a job, her own place and go back to school.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door A life-skills session at Florence Booth House.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Sharmila Mohammed, a housing worker at Florence Booth House, meets with Julie. Along with helping women find housing, Mohammed provides community follow up. “I make sure they have a bed, dishes, clothes and furniture, so they don't have an empty apartment,” she says. She also goes grocery shopping with them, and shows them where to find food banks, churches and medical centres, “so they don't feel isolated and know they have support.”

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Marian Thompson, a housing worker at Evangeline Residence, meets with Jo-Anne.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door On Monday evenings, women at Evangeline Residence express their creativity as they sew, knit, crochet, paint and make jewelry.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Laura has found safety and support at Evangeline Residence after experiencing domestic violence. “I'm using it as a stepping stone in my life,” she says. She is studying towards a certificate in family counselling at Centennial College, and wants to help other women. “They've been crushed with negative, critical words, with failed expectations. Maybe they've lost their children, their spouse, their job—all they've done is lose all their lives. But they are not losers,” she says. “God has given us all something. We all need each other. We're not carbon copies. God is a creator. We're all necessary.”

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Linda and Carol visit a mobile health bus that comes to Evangeline Residence each week.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Lunch at Hope Shelter.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Major Carson Durdle, the director of Hope Shelter, leads a brief chapel time each morning.

    The Salvation Army - - An Open Door Aaron is staying at Hope Shelter for a few days while he waits to enter the Harbour Light treatment program. He's been in treatment before, but has hope for the future. “Underneath everything, I do have faith in God,” he says. “Part of faith is belief in self, and I think I still have enough faith to be tenacious and try again. I can't give up on myself, because I really want to have a life.


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