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This article was published 5/12/2015 (2141 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The release of the city's first-ever homeless census offers a clearer snapshot of who is need of a place to live in Winnipeg. For Louis Sorin, the newly appointed CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg Inc, -- the corporation established to manage the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council's program -- the census is a key step toward finding a solution for homelessness in the city. The Free Press spoke with Sorin to get his thoughts on the census and to further explain what needs to happen to house the more than 1,700 homeless people in Winnipeg.
FP: What were your initial thoughts about the results of the census?
LS: This is a snapshot, and I await the full report that they will bring out next month. It already is a conversation-starter when you look at the preliminary findings -- it is going to be a useful tool for organizations and for the community and for individuals to have a deeper understanding of what we are facing. It will be interesting to discuss what some of the priorities of our community will come from this.
FP: What did you find surprising or interesting in the results? (The report showed more than 400 people were "absolutely homeless" meaning they were either staying in an emergency shelter or roaming the streets. Of the respondents to the volunteer survey, more than 75 per cent identified as indigenous and 50 per cent had been in a foster or group home).
LS: We weren't surprised by who was represented. We know -- and agencies who work with this population know -- that it is a diverse and complex population. We know that young people coming out of child welfare (are often homeless), and it doesn't come as a surprise that there is a struggle coming out of child welfare. For the indigenous community as well.
FP: Can you explain what the Housing First model is?
LS: Housing First is an approach to homelessness that is recovery-oriented and involves moving persons with homelessness experience into independent and permanent housing of their choice as quickly as possible. Even for individuals with complex and chronic histories with homelessness, there should not be any preconditions to housing. They also should have access to supports and services that they need to move forward. Evidence has shown that a person's path to recovery is strengthened when they are housed first. Housing is a precondition to recovery. Housing First is also an approach that requires that systems work differently and collectively to solve the complex and difficult issues that perpetuate homelessness.
FP: Why is it important to help find homes for these people? What are the benefits to the city?
LS: EHW believes that all people deserve adequate and appropriate housing, regardless of history and/or social status. Winnipeg is a caring community, and we have the resources and the will to address the housing, social, health and well-being needs of our most vulnerable citizens. We are also at a unique point in our story as a city when all levels of government, all sectors of care, our business community, and our community leaders and partners are wanting to collaborate and eradicate homelessness. To do so will benefit all of our citizens. And our children will thank us.
FP: How does an organization go about housing someone who has been on the streets for, let's say, a decade?
LS: We have some experience and expertise with the At Home/Chez Soi project (a study from the Mental Health Commission of Canada that followed 2,000 participants for two years in the world's first Housing First trial). It targeted those chronic, complex cases, homeless individuals with mental-health issues, which the census brought out. But there are a lot of individuals struggling with mental issues because of trauma, because of life histories, addictions. If we believe as a community that, regardless of your support needs or life history, you are entitled to housing, that's the Housing First model. It's not a matter of (getting) treatment first and then you graduate into housing -- it flips that paradigm upside down, and the best approach, based on evidence, is to have housing first and then you create a support network.
FP: In cities such as Red Deer and Medicine Hat, using the Housing First model has led to great success, with Medicine Hat eliminating chronic homelessness. Is this possible here?
LS: We know those that are succeeding at this are doing it at the system level. It is an integrated approach; it is not just organizations in a "siloed" way. People are coming together with shared goals... We know you need one plan; you can't have six plans. It has to be integrated and we have to work together.
FP: What does Winnipeg have to do?
LS: We have started already to have a good foundation with the task force report (the Plan to End Homelessness report, released last year) that is a 10-year plan and well grounded in an integrated system. The essence of End Homelessness Winnipeg is to (figure out) how to develop those shared measures... that's critical to the success, because if we don't do that, we will manage homelessness for a long time, but we will struggle with trying to end it.
FP: Do you have faith that we are on the right path?
LS: I wouldn't have accepted the position if I didn't. I have strong, strong beliefs that we are on the right path.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.