Toronto: WoodGreen shares Homeward Bound expertise, builds partnerships
For a single mother on a low income, the track to a better life for her and her children is strewn with hurdles. Retraining for a new career is expensive – both in tuition dollars and in childcare costs – and vulnerable women may need additional supports to succeed. Since 2004, Toronto-based WoodGreen Community Services’ Homeward Bound program has helped to empower low-income single mothers as they transition to full economic self-sufficiency.
“What might have been overwhelming is now achievable.”
– Sydney Blum, WoodGreen Community Services
Over a four year period, the Homeward Bound program supports woman-led families with affordable housing and childcare, life skills training, academic upgrading, access to college education, and guaranteed work placements. To keep clients from taking on additional debt, education costs are covered through scholarships and fundraising.
“A woman who’s faced domestic violence won’t be able to focus on education or employment opportunities without a stable roof over her head or a safe place to leave her children during the day,” says Sydney Blum, Senior Manager of Partnership Development at WoodGreen. “We create opportunities for participants to empower themselves. What might have been overwhelming is now achievable.”
Homeward Bound is facilitated by an industry council made up of private and non-profit partners who guarantee internship placements for participants that are successful in their college programs. The internships take place in the third year of the program with the goal of moving to full-time employment (with housing support) in the fourth and final year.
The model has proven successful in Toronto – 80 per cent of participants maintain employment after the program ends – and WoodGreen has begun partnering with other agencies to replicate the model in communities across Ontario.
With grant money from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, WoodGreen has created a replication manual and how-to kit to help Ontario social service providers see how the Homeward Bound model could work in their communities.
“We preserve the integrity of the process that’s worked well in Toronto while collaborating with service providers in the host community and building on the strengths that they have,” Blum says. “It’s not a transplant model. We’re building something together that both adapts and strengthens.”
Last February, Home Suite Home, a non-profit, long-term housing provider for single parent families who are homeless in Halton, became the first organization to sign a Homeward Bound replication agreement. The Halton program began with five participants and is looking to expand to 15 participants over the next three years (five per year.)
A partnership with Peterborough Housing Corporation has led to a second replication planned for Peterborough, Ontario. In Brockville, the city’s Employment and Education Centre has partnered with WoodGreen to begin developing a local Homeward Bound program. Models in both cities will start with five participants.
WoodGreen is also working with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres to adapt the Homeward Bound model for urban Aboriginal mothers living in poverty. Friendship Centres in Timmins, Dryden, Hamilton, London, and Niagara are involved in this project.
In each city, centralization of services is a key theme in Homeward Bound replications, says Blum. “A lot is possible when you bring these resources together and give clients the easiest possible access to services.”