At Fred Victor Housing’s 145 Queen Street East location, we provide harm reduction housing (“meeting people where they’re at” without judgement) for those who were previously homeless and who face multiple barriers to housing as a result of sex work, substance abuse, or mental health issues. Our team of housing workers supports tenants in staying housed by coordinating individualized supports to build up resources like income security, health care, food security, legal services (particularly related to the criminal justice system), personal safety, mental health services, positive social contact, improved accessibility for people with disabilities, and harm reduction tools. We also facilitate a safer, welcoming community space (through conflict intervention, mediation, responding to overdoses, etc.) and provide building administration (maintenance, rent payments, health & safety, etc.)
We collaborate with our tenants to reduce the harmful effects of stigmatization. We support a community composed of extremely marginalized social groups often violently excluded from mainstream society. As a result we see higher than average rates of mortality, among other very concrete harms. Exclusion from societal resources like food, shelter from the elements, income, health care, education, cultural participation, and physical safety is stigmatizing, silencing and dehumanizing. The people we work with are “de-voiced” and their lack of a voice in society allows the larger population to avoid confronting the violence, traumatization, exclusion, and sometimes profound alienation and dissociation our tenants have experienced.
The creative writing group at Fred Victor is very small and intimate. It is the start of an ongoing need to resist this “de-voicing” and dehumanization. By focusing intensively on the fundamental act of dialogue, by warmly supporting self-expression and listening, the group serves as a healing and growing space where participants can re-encounter, sometimes painfully and, it seems, always with varying degrees of struggle, the powerful and definitively human act, of telling their story and connecting with others.
It is important to contextualize this magic. The writing group demonstrates what is possible when we cross social borders to collaborate with and listen to groups who are usually ignored. It kindles moments, in a little over an hour each week, of dialogue that can transcend the barriers that usually divide us. It is an inspiring and incredibly positive experience for participants and staff. It should inspire our city to not only support this program but to listen more faithfully to the groups our society stigmatizes and demonizes, especially when we find it most challenging. The writing group demonstrates a way to honour dignity that applied more broadly –in our workplaces, our government, our culture, and our communities, could reduce the need for places like Fred Victor.
Community Development Housing Worker