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Florence Booth House, Toronto

Located in the downtown core, Florence Booth House was opened in 2000 with the intent of being a temporary shelter for that winter. In February of this year, we celebrated our 7th anniversary, proving the need is still very real...

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Florence Booth House, Toronto

If you lost your job, where would you turn? If your house was destroyed in a fire where would you go? If life as you knew it was interrupted, where would you seek solace? In 2006, 572 women turned to The Salvation Army Florence Booth House.

Located in Toronto’s downtown core, Florence Booth House was opened in 2000. The shelter is named after Florence Booth, the daughter-in-law of Salvation Army founder William Booth. Florence is credited for running “rescue homes” for prostitutes in the late 1800s, and is known as the founder of women’s social work within the Salvation Army. Florence advocated on the behalf of women who otherwise had no voice, and went so far as to campaign (successfully) to raise the age of majority in England. I’m sure you can imagine the challenges she faced doing this type of work in an era where staying home to raise your children was the norm for women. What better name could we have for our shelter?

Although Florence Booth House was opened with the intent of being a temporary shelter for one winter we are now in the beginning of our eighth year proving the need is still very real. Averaging 97% occupancy every month, Florence Booth House serves women who are spiritually, mentally, and physically broken. Whatever her circumstances, each woman who enters our door is given a safe place to reside as she focuses on herself and her needs.

Having worked at Florence Booth House since it’s opening, first as a front line worker, and now as the program coordinator, I have had the opportunity to see hundreds of women come to the shelter, each with her own history and each with her own story. Having worked with these women, walking along side them through their healing journeys, the most amazing thing I have witnessed is watching women who would otherwise never meet, never speak working together come together growing and caring as only family could. Mothers, daughters, and sisters all connected through their circumstances and a sense of empathy the likes of such I’ve never witnessed before.

When a woman comes to Florence Booth House, our initial concern is her immediate needs. Is she hungry? Does she need medical attention or maybe just a place to finally get a peaceful rest? Once those initial needs are met, she is connected with a counsellor and a housing worker. The average wait time for affordable housing in Toronto is 14 years, so we work with the women to get their names on the waiting list as soon as possible. Once that process as been started, our counsellors meet with our residents and, through a case management module, work to achieve mutually set goals. The counselling department at Florence Booth House works with the residents to identify the numerous areas of development with our residents. We are able to offer basic life skills classes, such as budgeting, and self care. We are currently developing a more in depth life skills program that involves coping mechanisms for topics such as grief, and self esteem. Referrals are also made to immigration programs, legal clinics, ID replacement resources, and employment centres.

Today, Florence Booth House stands on the threshold of a new and exciting time. While we are happy to have helped the hundreds of women we’ve served since our opening, we feel a calling to focus on a population that has been overlooked. To this end, we are in the process of researching the needs of sex workers in our city, and how we can help give them the safety and support needed to make informed life choices. We are privileged to be a part of the Salvation Army Ontario Central Division Initiative against Human Trafficking of Women and Children Sub Committee, and value the support they offer our future endeavours in this area. Our contacts have also expressed their enthusiasm for our pending project.

Our staff and management are continually looking for unique ways to improve the quality of life for each woman who seeks our services. Our goal is to provide an equal opportunity within society, so that our residents can be treated fairly, be respected for their differences, and enjoy the highest quality of life.

Statistics on Homelessness in the Toronto Area:

Based on the Street Needs Assessment, a survey conducted on April 19, 2006:
A minimum estimated 5,052 people were homeless or living in shelters on that night.
26% were female, however it is noted that women are more likely to be part of the “hidden homeless” staying with friends or family due to the stigma attached to using a shelter
These numbers do not include people temporarily living with family and friends but with no home of their own.
552,000 Toronto households have incomes below the poverty line
250,000 Toronto households pay more than 30 per cent of their incomes on rent
71,000 households are now on the municipal waiting list for affordable social housing, and
31,985 homeless individuals (including 4,779 children) stayed in a Toronto shelter at least once during 2002

Photo Credits:
All photos associated with this article courtesy of Sharon (all permissions granted).