Blue Door: A Year of Challenge and a Vision for the Future
By: Emmy Kelly, Chief Operating Officer at Blue Door
2022 was both a challenging and eventful year for Blue Door, like many charities in Canada, we faced a number of challenges when it comes to addressing homelessness and poverty. Homelessness and poverty have been exacerbated by the ongoing crisis, with more people than ever in our history experiencing increased hardship and vulnerability and numbers continuing to rise. At the start of 2020 we set an ambitious goal to house 500 annually for the 2020-2022 period, then COVID-19 hit which continued the decrease in housing affordability in Canada due to job loss, economic uncertainty, and increased demand for housing. The challenge to find housing became more competitive and less likely. Understanding the new and competing demands of both supply and incomes, we revised our goal to 200 and with the overwhelming challenges successfully moved only 176 individuals into housing.
Support services were stretched thin as the demand for assistance continued to grow. Like nearly every other organization in the sector, one of our challenges has been staffing, particularly scaling up to meet new and current program demands coupled with a high turnover and burnout rate among staff members, including and especially on the frontline, due to the emotionally and physically taxing nature of the work and increased crisis. In the face of maintaining stability for those we serve we also face the challenge of the lack of sustainable funding and resources, which required additional attention to provide the necessary services and support to those in need.
To tackle these challenges, Blue Door has implemented several strategies, such as working towards the establishment of a land trust for our regions and doing our part to increase incomes through Construct our social enterprise, securing and building more affordable housing stock, increasing staff supports including wellness programs, reviewing processes to ensure they are equitable and inclusive, developing partnerships with other organizations and businesses, cross-sector collaboration, succession planning and increasing our resource development and communication team to secure more funding for our services. Additionally, Blue Door has implemented programs to address specific issues such as affordable housing, education and job training, and mental health support.
Despite these challenges, in 2022 Blue Door remained committed to helping those experiencing or more likely to experience homelessness and is dedicated to finding innovative solutions to the issues facing the community it serves by remaining laser-focused on four strategic priorities: Housing (including Housing Stability and Homelessness Prevention), Health, Employment, and Organizational Capacity and Readiness.
We faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, and we continue to be determined to make sure people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are taken care of through access to safe dignified housing. We pivoted to support the needs of York Region by isolating people experiencing homelessness in place and using one of our sites for isolation. Additionally, we began the successful operation of Passage House, which provides 18 transitional housing units, and we added additional units to our supportive housing portfolio, bringing our total supportive and transitional housing units to 36.
Housing and health are directly connected. With poor health causing people to experience homelessness, and homelessness rapidly exacerbating health challenges. To ensure people have the support needed to rebuild their health and exit homelessness, Blue Door worked tirelessly to ensure that our transitional and emergency housing programs set up a Health Hub where people facing homelessness can receive physical and mental health supports. A few of the health supports include an on-site part-time nurse, in-person/virtual psychotherapy, peer support, and an In-Reach Worker to ensure people discharged from hospitals with nowhere to stay have access to housing.
Blue Door’s employment social enterprise called Construct has seen incredible success and growth, including expansion into Peel Region, expanding TradeWorx an investment (powered by The Home Depot Canada Foundation) in social enterprises helping youth exit homelessness through trade careers, and working on a plan to expand Construct through franchising. We have also launched a new Training Center in time to celebrate Construct’s year 2 anniversary. Blue Door continues to work hard towards homelessness prevention through its trades-based employment social enterprise and supported over 200 Construct participants, with an 80% employment success rate.
Organizational Capacity and Readiness
In a time of economic uncertainty and rising community needs, Blue Door is working to ensure that our organization is prepared for the future. We launched the Champion’s Circle, a group of professionals from across the sector who advise and champion Blue Door. We have also developed a new strategic plan for 2023-2025, celebrated our 40th anniversary, and are proud to have received the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce Not-for-Profit of the Year Business Excellence Award.
Vision for the Future
As we look to 2023, we are motivated by the progress we have made and excited for the opportunities that lie ahead. Through the new strategic plan that we will launch for 2023-2025, we will continue to work on our strategic priorities of Housing, Health and Employment to ensure each person that comes through our doors becomes the hero of their own journey.
While Blue Door has made significant strides in addressing housing stability and homelessness prevention, poverty and homelessness continue to be major issues across Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues, causing many people to struggle with job loss, reduced income, and increased health care expenses. The pandemic has also exposed and widened existing racial and socioeconomic disparities in access to housing and other basic needs.
Therefore, as an organization and as a society, we recognize that there is still much work to be done to address poverty and homelessness. Blue Door is committed to continuing to work towards its strategic priorities to support those in need, and to collaborate with other organizations and community leaders to address these issues and create a more equitable and just society where everyone can assess dignified housing.
The Blue Door team is steadfast in continuing the work we have started to create a better future for all. Together, we can make a real difference in our community.