Bright Spot: St. Thomas-Elgin reduces chronic homelessness by 25%

August 11, 2022 / News

Community-wide efforts led to a 25% reduction in chronic homelessness in St. Thomas-Elgin. This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.

St. Thomas-Elgin’s unwavering focus on community-wide collaboration towards shared aims and a housing-focused approach has led them to reach a significant milestone in their efforts to reduce and end chronic homelessness. This Built for Zero community set their baseline in August 2021, and less than a year later, met their first reduction milestone by maintaining a 10% or greater reduction for three consecutive months. Their data from June 2022 shows a whopping 25% reduction in chronic homelessness! This is a result of significant teamwork and dedication across stakeholders, community service providers, and the people they serve.

“The community’s willingness to do this hard work hand in hand is what has allowed us not just to take a step, but a major leap towards achieving Functional Zero in our community,” says Danielle Neilson, Homelessness Prevention and Housing Programs Supervisor at the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department.

“This work is hard, but you don’t give up. You band together across organizations and sectors, you aim ambitiously, you lean on your data, you learn each step of the way, you build bridges, and you weave your dedication to your neighbours experiencing homelessness throughout all you do,” says Lisa Bell, Built for Zero Canada’s Improvement Advisor.


Collaborative Community Efforts

Community partners throughout St. Thomas-Elgin have been heavily involved in the work to reach this significant milestone. These efforts are bolstered through regular communications and in developing an ambitious, shared aim that was brought forward at various community tables.

“Our community’s willingness to step away from siloed approaches and go into the grey together to support vulnerable members of St. Thomas-Elgin is a direct contributing factor to this achievement and it’s a testament to the spirit of this community,” says Neilson.

St.-Thomas-Elgin acknowledges that although there was a high rate of move-ins in the past three months, these move-ins unfortunately weren’t the only reason for reductions.

“There is a strong sense of community across service providers and the people they serve within St. Thomas-Elgin. Sadly, over the past few months a couple of our neighbours experiencing homelessness passed away before achieving housing stability. Our community feels these losses tremendously,” says Neilson.

Though the heartbreaking losses left a mark on the community, they continued to make efforts to strive forward and improve the system. “Our system isn’t perfect and sometimes it fails, but our team doesn’t let failure stop them from continuously trying to improve. We recognize that our work is not done, and we honour our losses by allowing them to motivate us to keep moving forward.”

St. Thomas-Elgin seeks to continue strengthening existing partnerships as well as forging and developing new ones in their journey to sustain their current success and reach a further reduction in chronic homelessness.

Cross-sector Coordinated Access teams meet bi-weekly to look at their data, identify prevention and move-in opportunities, including people at risk of aging-in to chronic homelessness in the next few months, and they problem-solve through these system barriers.


Data-driven decision making

Service providers in St. Thomas-Elgin continue to collect robust, holistic real-time data on clients, which helps to inform system and service level decisions.

“The team keeps such a close pulse on inflow and outflow data throughout the month to share patterns, gain insights, and react quickly.” In fact, the BFZ-C data lead, Valerie Beneteau of the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, looks at their data daily to ensure its accurate and up-to-date, as well as to identify patterns, progress, and opportunities for improvement. This data is then brought forward in all cross-sector meetings to show and celebrate how staff efforts throughout the system directly impact move-in data.

“We were expecting an increase would happen this spring after our emergency shelter, The INN, moved from an overnight program to a 24/7 program. However, because of this, we were able to identify new people in our system, which just meant we had an even greater awareness and connection to folks experiencing homelessness in the community,” says Beneteau.

Despite a significant spike in the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in March 2022, the team met their first reduction milestone by reaching and holding 10% below baseline in April, May, and June through a combination of efforts that reduced inflow and increased outflow.


A growth mindset

St. Thomas-Elgin had 13 move-ins in Oct 2021 when a new supportive housing program opened, but they are proving that communities can accelerate move-ins even without new units coming online as they also had 13 move-ins in April 2022! With nearly half of the move-ins connected to a long-standing supportive housing provider, this Built for Zero community notes that strengthening partnerships with all housing providers was key to their success. “Efforts to strengthen partnerships across sectors and with several providers and front-line staff is an on-going focus and priority. These efforts are what enable us to best capture housing efforts across the system, including move-ins with our local and valued housing providers,” says Neilson.

The community notes that reaching milestones isn’t linear and having a growth mindset is essential to the work.

“You have to see problems as challenges you just haven’t figured out yet and believe that with continued effort and learning, anything is possible”

Although they recognize that this is incredibly hard work, this Built for Zero community doesn’t give up and remains motivated in their shared aim to end chronic homelessness. To view St. Thomas-Elgin’s progress, check out their Public Data Dashboard.

This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.

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