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Bright Spot: St. Thomas-Elgin reduces chronic homelessness by 30% in just seven months

April 24, 2024 - 1:58 pm / News

Community collaboration is a key component to the community’s recent success

A collaborative approach has led to a major reduction in chronic homelessness in St. Thomas-Elgin, a community of roughly 100,000 people in southwestern Ontario.  

Between July 2023 and January 2024, St. Thomas-Elgin reduced chronic homelessness by 30%.  

Working together over that time, the community found homes for 126 people experiencing homelessness, more than half of whom were grappling with chronic homelessness. Roughly one quarter of those people experiencing homelessness — 31 people — were housed in November 2023 alone! 

The reduction is a direct result of the local service providers from multiple sectors coming together to create community-wide solutions, according to the St. Thomas Elgin BFZ-C team.  

“Resiliency, hope and community collaboration are critical to this work,” said Danielle Neilson, Manager of Housing Stability Services with the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department.  


 Reducing homelessness takes continuous effort  

Across the country there has been an increase in people experiencing homelessness, including in St. Thomas-Elgin.   

Reducing and ending homelessness is not a linear pathway. St. Thomas-Elgin established quality By-Name Data in September 2021 and celebrated its first reduction of 25% in August 2022. But soon after, homelessness increased.  

Some of this increase was due to a surge in new homelessness, but much was also due to local data and process improvements. Improvements included expanding access points and mapping, while increasing outreach efforts to people living unsheltered or at risk of homelessness. As a result, the community reset their baseline to 120 people experiencing chronic homelessness in July 2023.  

Community partners responded to this increase by further coordinating and expanding program and service efforts. By August 2023, the community was able to start making reductions again. By January 2024, St. Thomas-Elgin had reduced homelessness by 30% 


The power of a community coming together with a housing focused approach 

A major factor that contributed to reductions in St. Thomas-Elgin included new supportive housing. In September of 2023, St. Thomas welcomed, The Station, a brand new 45-unit housing project for people experiencing chronic homelessness with mid-acuity, led by developer Indwell, St. Thomas-Elgin’s newest supportive housing provider and partner. The Station is the second Indwell build for the municipality, preceded by Railway City Lofts, which is 15 units of highly supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness with the highest acuity.    

 This new supportive housing through Indwell accounted for many of the community’s move-ins, but not all. People were also assisted to move into other supportive, affordable and market rent housing opportunities through YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services and the Canadian Mental Health Association Thames Valley who stepped up their own efforts to find homes for people experiencing homelessness in St. Thomas-Elgin.  

Additionally, The INN, their local emergency shelter, has worked hard to become low-barrier and housing focused and the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, implemented A Place Called Home, a program to support women-led families facing housing instability in the community. 


Health and Justice Sector Partnerships 

Services and supports that have been making an impact include a low-barrier Sublocade harm reduction program provided to more than 150 people experiencing homelessness and those transitioning into housing. 

 The Sublocade program began operating through the Central Community Health Centre (CCHC) in St. Thomas in 2022. It includes regular meetings and monthly injections (rather than daily doses) and does not require people to abstain from street drugs. Since implementing this program, it has resulted in zero overdoses and a reduction of street drug use over time. Strong physician-patient relationships have also been built, resulting in improved mental and physical health, and engagement in other health and housing programs resulting in more people being housed and less people returning to homelessness.  

In addition, the St. Thomas Police Service (STPS) has observed that there has been a reduction in police interventions on the streets and at the shelter. They have connected this reduction to the Sublocade harm reduction program, as well as the effort that the STPS has made to build positive relationships with vulnerable people, including people experiencing homelessness.  

In 2022, the STPS launched a new program, the Community Resource Team, within downtown St. Thomas. This team fosters relationships and works with community partners to enhance services for vulnerable people, including people impacted by mental health, substance use, homelessness, and poverty.   

The Community Resource Team has focused on helping people to connect or maintain connection with housing and health resources to avoid unnecessary involvement in the justice systems or the loss of housing.  

These programs led by the STPS and CCHC are examples of how other sectors, including the health and justice sector, are needed in local solutions and responses to reducing homelessness. These sectors working together with the housing and homelessness sector directly contributed to the 30% chronic homelessness reduction in St. Thomas-Elgin. 


Next steps 

Despite all these efforts, the St. Thomas-Elgin team is not resting on its laurels. They know their work isn’t done in reducing homelessness.  

But what they have accomplished so far can be a template for other cities looking to replicate their success.  

“We are seeing sectors come together and we are leaning into sector-known best practices, and it is working.  We still have lots of work ahead of us, but we are seeing success. We are implementing these best practices and continually improving, and we are doing it in collaboration – together, at the same time. If we can do it, so can other communities,” said Heather Sheridan, Director of Social Services.