Peer Driven Work in Housing and Homelessness for Health Equity

A knowledge exchange forum on peer work in housing and homelessness took place on November 27, 2023. Strummed in by local musician, Dan Crow, led by the Peer Navigator Project with support from CRHESI, peer workers from multiple organizations, their co-workers and leaders, and researchers gathered at Innovation Works, in downtown London.

The afternoon was buzzing with shared insights about the unique value of peer work to support people accessing health and social services, passion to address challenges and a keen urgency to mobilize efforts to support the growth of peer work.

The following summarizies key issues raised by event participants with recommendations for action.

The Peer Navigator Project is a community-based research project that works alongside key community partners to engage Peer Navigators (PN) in Canada: London, Toronto, and Vancouver, and Kenya: Eldoret, Huruma, and Kitale. The goal of this study is to determine how well PNs meet the needs of street connected youth, particularly in facilitating access to HIV and AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment. The Peer Navigator Project (PNP) is funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research. Please click the following weblink to read the full interim report:

Below is an introduction to peer work and the PNP with a focus on the London, ON site.

Creating an On-Going Community of Peer Workers

This event, Peer Driven Work in Housing and Homelessness for Health Equity, fostered meaningful discussions and shed light on the dedication of peer workers, and their leaders and colleagues in community.

Envisioning the future of peer work, participants called for ways to continue their connection, to continue to support each other and advocate for peer work.

Plans are in progress for a peer-led community of practice to begin in early 2024!

For more information please contact:
Abe Oudshoorn

Thanks to the event planning committee: Abe Oudshoorn, Amy Van Berkum, Arun Jentrick, Christine Garinger, Jenna Pogue, Kaitlyn Widdup, and Katie MacEntee.

Solutions to Homelessness – Lunch Talk at Innovation Works

CRHESI members, Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and Jule Ryan spoke to Innovation Works co-tenants during a Brown Bag lunch talk this month on Solutions to Homelessness in London.  

Abe’s past clinical work as a community nurse provided the base for his research agenda and desire to work at a higher level, aiming to transform systems to end homelessness in London, Canada and beyond. 

 Historical context on homelessness:

  • Pre WWII, housing instability meant the use of informal dwellings, people built their own shelters, such as shacks (around Carling Heights for example). 
  • Post WWII, around 1965, public, social housing was introduced. 
  • Government built and funded the number of units needed to meet the need at that time. These structures built in 1970’s are the same structures still in use in London today.  
  • Rent was geared to income (30%). 
  • 1980’s: Housing construction stopped in Canada–Global financial crisis + conservative governments = stop spending 
    • Abe noted that in the 2006-2015 era, PM Harper flipped this austerity practice and instead encouraged gov spending to stimulate the economy  
  • Late 1980’s, the first concerns were noted in the House of Parliament about homeless constituents 
  • 1990’s: Canada builds shelters (such as Salvation Army, Mission Services, domestic violence shelters)
    • Abe says: It’s good that we care! But, systemically not good, as shelter living has many deleterious effects and if it is the default solution, people are unwell, unhealthy
  • 2004: Centre of Hope is built, which increased beds but they are filled and the need keeps increasing. 
  • 2008-2016: We introduce the Housing First model: ‘rehouse’ people with supports
  • 2016: With a 4.5 % vacancy rate and more new building, 200 people are rehoused and Centre of Hope transitions some space to rental rooms for substance use recovery. 
  • 2018: We hit a brick wall.  The vacancy rate in London dives and capacity for supporting homeless people is maxed out.  Add in a depressed housing market in London 
  • 2021: London is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada which means high competition in the housing market. 

There are many, too many stories and examples of people losing their housing due to bad faith evictions.