Over the past few years, Mission Services has seen a change in the type of people accessing our programs. We are seeing more older women and men, more children, getting more requests for housing options and supports, and working with more people with accessibility issues and addictions. We are answering these new challenges, updating our services, and making decisions backed by research and planning in order to create opportunities for our clients and our staff to succeed.
At Emma’s Place and Willow’s Place, we have a number of women with mobility and accessibility issues accessing our services. In an early-20th century building, this means we need to create and maintain better barrier-free spaces. We are grateful that in 2019 we were able to build a ramp to the main door at Willows to give access to women in scooters as well with walkers. Creating accessible spaces means considering space in the hallway when adding lockers or couches and moving tables to create more space for seating in the general activities room and the dining area.
As well, at both Emma’s Place and Willows Place, we are seeing more women who are over 70 years of age. These older women are among the most vulnerable in the community and we want to ensure they feel, and are, safe in a space filled with a variety of ages and physical and mental health needs.
Over the past three years, the programs have added three accessible washrooms and two accessible showers to this space. Additionally, staff are now trained in oxygen safety for those clients with oxygen tanks and now must understand the unique needs of older women: wound care, dementia and medical needs, as well as homelessness and lack of family support.
As costs of living increase in Hamilton, and across the province, calls to Mission Services for help finding affordable housing are on the rise. Many of our neighbours are accessing our housing services, seeking affordable, clean, and safe homes. Our Housing Up program exists to provide support for men to find and keep affordable housing. But we are also contacted weekly by men, women, and families seeking help to find homes for them and their families.
Even with a full staff at Housing Up and staff members in our women’s programs, it is hard to find suitable housing. It is especially hard to hear the stories of need and for help. We continue to call upon the city and the province to work with Mission Services and other non-profit housing providers in Hamilton and area to create and sustain affordable housing.
We are thrilled that Housing Up has housed 239 unique individuals since it launched in April 2020 and that 77% of the individuals discharged from the program have been successfully stable and independent while housed. Currently we have 43 individuals connected with the program, looking for a housing placement. We continue to work with landlords, housing programs and the city to house our homeless and precariously-housed neighbours.
Sadly, as we read far too often and see far too much, opioid use and addiction issues are on the increase. Since March 2020, 74% of Ontarians have experienced increased mental health and addictions challenges, and 42% of adults have increased addictions habits. The addiction program at Mission Services is now running 17 groups per week and sees 204 people regularly, both in-person and virtually.
As well, in response to the exploding opioid crisis in Hamilton, Mission Services recently created a harm reduction team which is available at all of our sites and works to address the increasing severity of mental health and addictions issues, and the resulting behavioural issues, that clients may be facing.
The program will also allow us to add to community research and understanding of addictions and mental health as well as to share the model and results with similar-population-serving organizations. Since the launch of the program in January of 2022, the team has met with 1426 clients.
Finally, Inasmuch House, our shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence, currently has over 20 children staying with them. More children and youth at the shelter requires diversifying the food options, ensuring there is staff to help them de-learn the violence they have witnessed, and adding more resources to help them with school. This increase in numbers at the shelter also meant rooms needed upgrades. Our staff are now interacting with children of all ages, babies to teens so each interaction requires a different skill set.
We can’t entirely attribute these changes to COVID-19 and the aftermath, as we do know that prior to the pandemic, clients of our services were already living precariously. According to the 2021 census, in Hamilton, 12% of seniors (65+) live in poverty and 40% of the population in our downtown core lives in poverty. Now with increased costs and decreased buying power, more Hamiltonians are turning to our services. The pandemic exposed the realities of those who are experiencing homelessness and how close so many in the city are to needing support from Mission Services.
Our mission is to be open and available to all who need us. As our vision says, we want everyone to feel safe and have access to healthy food, housing, treatments and opportunities. With your support, we will be able to recognize and react to any situation that comes to our door.