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Seeking Justice for All

Pilot project helps people avoid jail-shelter cycle

A U of T study released last November addresses the disquieting problem of homeless men and women trapped in a revolving door of prisons and shelters – and that research has now led to a pilot program for those who have lived on the streets and been incarcerated.

The report, released by U of T’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies (CUCS) in partnership with the John Howard Society (JHS) of Toronto, found that over a five-year period, the group caught in this jail-shelter-jail cycle had grown larger. “With failures across various programming areas – health, housing, criminal justice, et cetera – we’re seeing a number of people who are completely lost amongst these institutions and just bouncing around,” says Sylvia Novac, lead researcher and a CUCS research associate.

The study also indicates that homeless people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, and highlights the role of the troubled relationship between the homeless and police. “Some homeless people are reluctant to report how they’ve been victimized on the street, precisely because there’s so much suspicion of them being criminals,” says Joe Hermer, assistant professor of sociology and criminology at U of T and one of the report’s authors.

The initial findings helped give rise to a pilot project called the Post Incarceration Housing Support Program. It includes transitional accommodation that has successfully housed 130 people who have been homeless and incarcerated. Workers help clients find and maintain affordable housing and offer follow-up support. Both JHS and Toronto’s Streets to Home Initiative are involved in the project. Amber Kellen, who oversees advocacy and community programs for the JHS of Toronto and participated in the research, is confident that the program will be extended. “So far, the report has proven to be much more than a document that sits on a shelf gathering dust. It’s taken on a life of its own,” she says. “I see this as the beginning of something more.”

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