London Cares was the first organization to implement a housing-focused street outreach team in 2012. Currently, London Cares has two dedicated street outreach teams operating 24/7 to engage individuals experiencing homelessness, building trust to connect people to services and housing.
All of our teams work with all acuity levels, with a specialization in supporting those with a high acuity, and we work with all individuals, couples, youth, and people of all genders, including many from the LGBTQ2+ community. Using a trauma-informed approach, we meet people where they are at, provide compassion and support, and assist with system navigation to link people to services and supports needed. We work closely with police and emergency services to divert individuals experiencing homelessness from these services and reduce the strain on these systems.
Our teams work with those experiencing homelessness to get paper ready for housing (i.e., required documentation is completed and income verified), allowing them to be placed on London’s Coordinated Access Priority List for Housing to be matched with a housing program. We work closely with emergency shelters, the Coordinated Access team, the City of London Housing Stability Services team, and other agencies in the Homeless Prevention System to provide a coordinated response.
Our street outreach teams also refer people into Resting Space services to ensure those who are experiencing homelessness and cannot access emergency shelter have access to rest, basic needs, and support on a rotational basis to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get out of the elements.
Street outreach is conducted through “feet on the street” to engage with people sleeping rough in the core areas of London and using two agency vehicles to respond to calls from all over the city. We respond anywhere from the Masonville area in the north end of the city, to the White Oaks area in the south end, to the Argyle area in the far east end of the city, and to the west end as far as Kilworth.
Our street outreach team often needs to engage with individuals in isolated locations, such as under bridges, deep valleys, urban camps, wooded areas, and along the river. Our team is often hiking in to engage with people who are well hidden. We attend all areas and assertively engage with individuals to try to build rapport, even if an individual has not yet identified they want to engage in service. We do not give up and keep showing up to build trust and connection.
We also field 20-40 calls daily from the community for individuals they are concerned about. We are responsive and responsible, and we often work beyond our resources due to the dedication and commitment of our team. The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather alert days are a perfect example of the dedication our team consistently exhibits. During extreme cold or hot weather alerts or during torrential storms when most of the community is hunkering down inside, our team is out in the elements connecting with those experiencing homelessness to intervene and provide a safe location, preventing many cases of frostbite, heatstroke, and other severe medical concerns. In the early days of the pandemic when most people were working at home and the streets were empty of cars, our team was out both day and night continuing to engage with those who had no home to go to, despite the lack of knowledge about the impact of COVID-19. Our street outreach teams should really be considered first responders.