Many of us will never have to rely on a non-profit organization to make ends meet or to help us find food and lodging. We hear about the charities that do this work, we might donate to them or even volunteer hours, but they largely exist on the periphery of our lives. For other Torontonians, however, they’re an essential lifeline. Homes First is one of those organizations. It’s a cause that Kiss the Cook has supported for years and one whose work deserves a very bright spotlight. Yes, their contribution to our city is that vital.
Why? Founded in 1983, Homes First is a non-profit that runs six shelters and 13 housing properties across the city. On any given night they house approximately 850 people in more than 500 shelter and respite beds (some of which are open only seasonally), along with a large stock of permanent housing units. Last year they served 401,000 meals to a wide range of clients in those shelters and respite centres, including the homeless, seniors, single parents and their children, entire families, as well as individuals with difficult mental health or addiction challenges.
Strachan House at Wellington St. and Strachan Ave. is a perfect example of their good work in action. The building, best known in the neighbourhood for its pink façade, is a former factory long-since converted into a space for those in need. For nearly two decades it’s been run like a shelter, but is actually longer-term transitional housing. The building is staffed 24/7 to ensure that people who need housing get it whenever it’s required, including medical care and food. Just how dire are their clients’ circumstances? In many cases they make their way to the facility after having lived under bridges or on the streets. Some have such severe chronic health issues that their lives are in immediate danger. Strachan House provides them with ongoing care and a roof overhead.
“We have clients there who, when they first came into the program based on their health and conditions, they may not have lasted another five years,” says Homes First Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator Hania Ahmed.
“We’ve seen what proper supports can do for a person, and people at Strachan House are thriving,” she says.
Homes First also offers meal programs across their properties, giving residents the opportunity to share community meals once a week in a group setting. The goal is to help clients break bread and make social connections with their neighbours.
That last point sums up Homes First’s mission. They exist to help clients reach their life goals, while bridging the gap until they can find affordable, stable housing. In many cases, they also help those individuals maintain their housing, which can prove difficult due to the aforementioned addiction or mental health issues that are common across their client community. They’re effectively the bridge between the shelters and the stable housing that at-risk individuals need to get their lives back on track. This explains why their housing properties offer rent geared to tenant income, rather than at market rates.
“What’s special about us is that we work with people with the fewest housing options,” explains Ahmed. “They’re chronically homeless, have housing for a short time, go back to being homeless and repeat. We’ve figured out what it takes to break that cycle.”
The organization maintains two mobile teams to cover the east and west halves of the city. They help clients manage everything from hoarding and pest issues, to late rental payments and even help them overcome barriers to preparing nutritious meals.
“Many of our clients have lost basic life skills after living on the street for so long,” Ahmed points out.
We first became a supporter of Homes First about five years ago. Because we tend to have leftover food after catering both small and large events—and we hate seeing it go to waste—we decided to partner with a great organization that could put those (incredibly delicious!) dishes to good use by donating it to the people who need it most.
In fact, our daily corporate catering clients have the option of enrolling in a leftover pick-up program. At the end of each lunch we simply return to pick-up any unused food and donate it to charities or non-profits such as Homes First. Since office attendance can fluctuate drastically from one day to the next, there are many opportunities for unused food to go to those in need. Enrolling in our program can also help an organization achieve its corporate social responsibility goals.
To date, with the help of our amazing clients, we’ve donated thousands of servings of food to Homes First. Kiss the Cook cuisine is delivered to kitchens across their properties where it’s served to residents who not only need basic sustenance, but also healthy, nutritious meals that can help them start the often long and winding journey back to health and wellness.
In our view, supporting wonderful causes like Homes First isn’t just a feel-good gesture. It’s part of being a responsible community member and giving back whenever possible. When we all work together and lend a hand to those who need it most, we all thrive. And if we can do it by helping others enjoy some delicious meals along the way, that makes us even happier!
Fia Pagnello, Founder and CEO
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