Program Spotlight: Elgin Homelessness Prevention Team

We are excited to be highlighting our Homelessness Prevention Team in Elgin County!

The Elgin Homelessness Prevention Team has operated in some capacity for nearly 10 years through legacy organization CMHA Elgin and its partnership with the City of St. Thomas.

The Team is comprised of four staff providing system navigation and addiction and mental health support: Diane Ingram, Ashley Park, Becca Thibeault, and Helen Harris. Diane maintains contact with more than 60 individuals in the community at any given time, and Ashley, Becca and Helen support an additional 60 individuals living in residential care homes in St. Thomas.

Guided by the goal to house people who are experiencing homelessness or are under-housed, this program provides a time-limited subsidy, funded by the City of St. Thomas through the provincial Homelessness Prevention Program, to ensure food security and access to safe housing. Our addiction and mental health workers work with these individuals to create a wellness plan for each person’s unique situation and provide a range of rehabilitation, skill-development, and housing supports to assist people in exiting homelessness permanently. This allows those served by this program to have choice in their placement with person-centred, goal-oriented planning along the way.

Individuals experiencing homelessness face numerous challenges in finding and maintaining housing – usually for practical reasons such as not having a source of income or not having the identification or documentation needed to secure income support. Often, those who need the services do not know where to start to overcome these barriers. The system navigation role filled by Diane Ingram provides practical support in navigating the complexities of these services and offers a crucial link between homeless and housed, ensuring that when housing becomes available, the person Diane has helped has everything needed to be able to access the housing and is connected with the services needed to help them maintain it.

When asked about their proudest accomplishment, the team is most proud of the successes they have had in housing the most vulnerable individuals in St. Thomas. In conjunction with our Housing-focused Street Outreach team, our Homelessness Prevention Team is frequently called upon by the City or other partner agencies to engage with individuals who have been chronically homeless, and present with numerable complex mental health and addiction concerns, as well as complex behavioural challenges, often leading to lengthy involvement in the justice system and severe restrictions on where they are able to live. Despite these challenges, they have successfully housed many of these individuals.

Since September 2020, more than 85% of the individuals supported through this program have remained successfully housed.  

 This Team is committed to their vision of resolving chronic homelessness in St. Thomas by 2025. The low-barrier approach and ability to meet individuals wherever suits them best is proving to pair well with the compassionate addiction and mental health workers who are able to offer the right solution at the right time. The Team’s manager, Matthew Wilson, unequivocally attributes the success of this program to the four incredible staff who make up this small but mighty team! The work they do is amazing and they are truly making a difference.

“We believe that safe, affordable and appropriate housing is an important first step for many individuals who are looking to recover from mental health and addiction challenges.”

Thanks to the ongoing cooperation and collaboration with several partners, including the City of St. Thomas, YWCA, Community Health Centre, local Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) clinicians and the St. Thomas Police Service, the staff on this Team can remain focused on thorough, ongoing assessment and sourcing the right support for individuals at risk. They also recognize and appreciate the work their partners at Parkwood Institute, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH), and the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care do for the individuals they work with as well as the local shared living providers who accept referrals and the local shelter, Inn Out of the Cold, which provides relief from homelessness.

Want to connect with this team?

Diane, Housing System Navigator, is at the Inn (10 Princess Street) on Mondays and Fridays from 1:00pm to 3:30pm and at St. Thomas Social Services (230 Talbot Street) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00pm to 3:30pm.  You can also email info@cmhatv.ca to connect virtually. 

Thank you to Matt Wilson and Diane Ingram for contributing their insights so we could share this story. 

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