LIVING SPACE TO OFFER TRAUMACENTRED HEALING, WORKER SAYS
Expert says shelters should focus only on housing
On Friday evening, The Living Space emergency shelter held its first ever Indigenous Culture Night, organized by outreach worker Shiloh Spencer.
Spencer is a member of the all-women New Moon Singers, who danced and sang in full regalia in the shelter’s drop-in space accompanied by drumming and singing ensemble, Singing Spirit.
“The purpose of tonight is to let everyone know we want to move forward with a vision of healing and to focus more on the clients first,” Spencer said following the ceremony.
George Rose from Attawapiskat also performed.
It was the third time Singing Spirit has brought their song and drumming circle to the drop-in centre, but it was New Moon Singers’ first appearance.
Following the event, clients shared pizza and donuts, before settling down for the night.
Four out of five Living Space clients are Indigenous, Spencer said, referring to data collected by Third Party Public, the consulting company hired to produce a report on moving the shelter.
The review was requested by the city in July following public pressure which came to a head at an emotional Town Hall in June, where residents complained that crime and harassment have increased since the shelter opened at 316 Spruce St. in 2021.
The Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board leases the building to the shelter, administers their funds and provides them with management services.
When asked what she’d like the public to know about the shelter, Spencer said, “We are moving forward with trauma-informed client-centred care.
Ian De Jong, an expert on ending homelessness, says shelters should not provide programming, because that just encourages people to stay longer in the shelter, a practice he calls “therapeutic incarceration.”
“Shelters need to stop providing any services that attempt to heal or fix people,” he writes in his Book on Ending Homelessness.
Shelters should be exclusively housing focused, argues De Jong, who was hired by the board to provide recommendations for ending homelessness.
If the newly housed require help adjusting to the responsibilities of housing, those supports can be provided once they are housed, he says.
“Shelters are shelters. They are not rehab centres. They are not health care facilities. They are not counselling centres,” he writes.
And yet Spencer sees an opportunity while people are waiting for housing.
“We want to take an opportunity to try something new, and that will be to start the healing process with some, cause we can only move so many because there are only so many units.
“While people are here we want to help more.”
“We want to bring more culture,” Spencer continued. “Which isn’t exclusive to the Indigenous, anyone will be able to access it.”
Spencer thinks the centre is doing the best they can to find housing for its clients, considering that Timmins is in a housing crisis.
“A shelter is only as good as its ability to shelter only those that have no safe and appropriate alternatives,” De Jong writes. He recommends every shelter have a diversion worker, whose job it is to ask each household what alternatives to a shelter-stay might exist for them.
In his book, De Jong lists a series of questions diversion workers must ask, such as what alternatives to the shelter the household has tried or thought of trying, where they stayed the previous night and the night before and if it would be safe to return there if the shelter provided them with referrals to find permanent housing or to connect with other services.
De Jong notes the majority of alcoholics, former sex offenders, sex workers and drug users are housed, and service providers need to go to low-income neighbourhoods and find out how those people found and stayed housed so as to replicate those strategies.
“Any shelter provider that does not think homelessness should be short in duration or fails to see their role in that process is unlikely to be effective in being housing focused or in contributing to ending homelessness,” he writes.
The Living Space has found housing for 12 people since June, according to monthly data they began sharing on their Facebook page, in an effort to be more transparent following the town hall.
At Friday’s Indigenous Culture Night clients sat around the periphery of the drop-in centre, taking in the dancing and drumming. Some snacked on chips, another straightened her hair, while others stepped in and out for smokes.
“If only people on the outside could see what is happening in here,” mused Matthew Hobin, who has been a Living Space resident for almost six months while he awaits the resolution of a court proceeding he hopes will allow him to move back home with his parents and extended family.
“I’m part of the atmosphere here,” he said following the ceremony in an interview with The Daily Press in the Living Space boardroom.
After working at Blockbuster
video in the early 2000s, Hobin went into business with his father delivering beer and liquor, he said.
He found himself at the shelter following an altercation with his father he described as “very minor.”
“The court has gone to great lengths to expand my threshold of pain,” Hobin said. “My homesickness increases by the day.”
Hobin said the majority of residents are males who have been “ostracized,” but he has seen the Living Space provide people with housing and even reunite them with their families.
The 63-bed shelter welcomed 104 clients in September, at an average of 34 per night. Of those, 63 per cent were men, 32 per cent were women, and 4 per cent were “unknown.”
Hobin said women residents are often dealing with custody battles and drug use. And would need housing with an added level of security because “they are predated upon.”
Women and men sleep in separate areas at Living Space. Female clients sleep upstairs in a 15-bed secured unit partly funded by the Ontario Native Women’s Association.
A fob is required to enter the area, which is staffed around the clock and has security cameras in place.
Hobin has a positive view of the controversy surrounding the shelter’s location, which residents say has made the neighbourhood more dangerous.
“It’s helping the town really understand the human condition,” he said.
He thinks improving drug laws would improve community safety.
He’s noticed that since the supervised consumption site opened, “It almost turned the southeast corridor of town into the badlands where anything goes.”
“Even if people are drinking on the street, smoking pipes, the police don’t actually do anything. They’d pick them up, bring them to jail, charge them with an offense and let them go if it’s a non-violent offense.”
“They just gave up on it because users are users and life is tough enough. What can they really hold them for?”
For their part Safe Health Site Timmins reported they admitted 19 people into drug treatment and reversed 130 overdoses in their first year of operation.