From Shelter to Transformation: WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound Partnerships
Shelters are a necessary short term solution for some vulnerable women and their children, but what about meaningful long term change for these families? How do highly motivated women facing seemingly insurmountable barriers overcome them?
How can we as a collective shift our thinking from band aid solutions to a new way of engaging – one where families have what they need to thrive and where the potential for the next generation is truly limitless?
One answer is WoodGreen Community Services’ Homeward Bound program and province-wide Homeward Bound partnerships. First launched in Toronto in 2004, Homeward Bound is a 4-year holistic job-readiness program that integrates key supports such as safe, affordable housing, childcare, skills training and college education to help under-housed and homeless single mothers change their lives. Participants earn tuition-paid college diplomas, complete internships through an innovative Industry Council and begin careers within fields of study targeted to the local labour market.
More than 150 women and more than 180 children have benefitted from Homeward Bound. In fact, the program has been so effective that 80% of the women who have entered Homeward Bound have either successfully completed the program, or are currently on track to meeting the program’s milestones.
In 2013, a pro bono analysis by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that Homeward Bound is not only effective for the families in the program; it also provides an economic and social benefit to society. For every dollar invested in the program, BCG found that there is a $4 return to society.
Homeward Bound provides direct savings to Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services with a significant number of participants exiting social assistance programs permanently as opposed to the estimated 40% of recipients who leave OW only to return within 1-2 years. By averaging the annual OW cost for a mother-led family with one child and a mother-led family with two children, WoodGreen has calculated an annual annuity of $13,572 for every family that becomes economically self-sufficient by participating in Homeward Bound. If all 76 women currently in the program become self-sufficient, this grows to an annual annuity of $1.03 million.
The Homeward Bound model is now spreading across Ontario, as WoodGreen partners with local lead agencies and inter-sectoral partners to develop new programs. Homeward Bound Halton, led by Home Suite Hope in collaboration with Halton Region, Sheridan College and other key partners, launched in 2014. Homeward Bound programs are also in development in Peterborough and Brockville, ON, where Peterborough Housing Corporation and the Brockville Employment and Education Centre are the local leads.
Recognizing the unique cultural, historical and demographic context of Ontario’s urban Aboriginal communities, and in particular the challenges faced by urban Aboriginal single mothers living in poverty, WoodGreen has also partnered with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) and 5 Friendship Centre communities (Dryden, Timmins, London, Niagara and Hamilton) to explore feasibility and develop an adapted Urban Aboriginal Homeward Bound model.
All communities involved in the Urban Aboriginal Homeward Bound project have had significant engagement from diverse stakeholders, including local Indigenous organizations, municipalities, colleges, potential funders and community members. Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, in particular, is in talks with WoodGreen, OFIFC and the Friendship Centres about developing housing for families in the Urban Aboriginal Homeward Bound program. There is also a prospect of affordable home ownership for the participants following graduation from the program.
Dr. Marie Wilson, one of the Commissioners of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, “We must be honest about the real two solitudes in this country, that between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens, and commit to doing tangible things to close the divide in awareness, understanding and relationships.” Beyond Homeward Bound as a program model, the Urban Aboriginal Homeward Bound initiative is an example of how Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, organizations and service providers are coming together to close the divide and to promote the health and wellbeing of mother-led families today, and for future generations.
Among many assets, there is one thing that every Homeward Bound participant has that we need to remember if we are truly going to create a better future; whatever obstacles you’ve faced, and whatever impact you seek to make, hold strong in an unwavering sense of hope that anything is possible.
Written by Sydney Blum, Director of Community Impact & Strategic Relations, WoodGreen Community Services