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Fife House: A Personal Journey To Build Change

A conversation with a stabilization worker in Fife House’s much-needed Homeless Outreach Program…
 
Fife House is Canada’s largest provider of supportive residential programming and housing services for individuals and families living with HIV. It has 700 housing units in Toronto, including seven residential housing sites. We talked with Glen Hart, a housing stabilization worker in Fife House’s Homeless Outreach Program.
 
Glen, tell us about the work of the Fife House Homeless Outreach Program and why you are passionate about the work you do.
The Homeless Outreach Program supports people living with HIV in the community, to help them find housing and maintain it. We work with people who are chronically homeless as well as those newly homeless due to major life changes like the loss of a job or relationship, a health challenge or coming to a new country. We work with people fleeing violence, HIV stigma and discrimination.
 
As a person living with HIV who has also experienced homelessness, this work is very personal for me. When I was homeless, what saved my life was the support I received from workers in the HIV community. I consider it an honour to be able to provide for others the very services that I needed 15 years ago. That lived experience is what informs and motivates my work now. Working with clients to obtain safe and appropriate housing feels like a full circle moment for me.
 
What is the link between housing and a good quality of life for people living with HIV?
People living with HIV need safe, secure housing to maintain their health. HIV is very treatable, but for our clients who are homeless and living with mental health and/or substance use challenges, HIV can still be life-threatening. Daily, we work with clients who need connection to health care, medication and intensive support to stabilize their health and help them secure housing that meets their needs. With that, these clients have an opportunity to get their health back on track and go on to live long and healthy lives.
 
Tell us about the work that Fife House is doing to move chronically homeless clients into housing.
Thanks to our partnerships with the City of Toronto and St. Clare’s Multifaith, Fife House recently had the opportunity to move five chronically homeless clients into their own supportive housing apartments. Many of these clients are newcomers to Canada, fleeing from countries where they experienced HIV stigma and discrimination. After arriving in Canada, they had to stay in shelter and rely on social assistance. With social assistance rates as low as they are, it is extremely difficult to find housing where you do not have to share with others. This can be very challenging for people living with HIV because stigma and discrimination still exist here, and they need a safe place [where they can] live without fear. For these clients, moving into their own apartment is such a relief. Finally, they have their own home where they can begin their new life in Canada.
 
Tell us about what it was like for you moving these clients into their new home.
The day I moved the first client into his new home was the most rewarding day I’ve experienced as a housing stabilization worker. To witness someone who has been homeless moving into their new home, and knowing that I played a small part in it, is very gratifying. All the clients who have moved in are so happy to have a safe, healthy place to call home. This housing is going to be transformative for their life and give them the opportunity to flourish.
 
How did the pandemic impact your community?
A significant number of Fife House residents and clients are living with mental health challenges, and the isolation of the pandemic was especially difficult for them. Access to technology has been crucial to help them maintain their connections to healthcare providers, family and friends. Thanks to the generous support of ViiV Healthcare Canada, we purchased iPads for our residents and clients to use for virtual appointments with their doctors and psychiatrists, and video calls with friends and family. We at Fife House are grateful to the many organizations, foundations and individual donors that make our life-changing work possible and help improve access to care.
 
For more information on Fife House, visit www.fifehouse.org.
 

 

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