The Rooming House Project: The Importance of Tenant Engagement

The Rooming House Project (RHP) in partnership with EcuHome, and Homes First Society is one of our newest initiatives in Housing Services, working with precariously housed populations. Supporting over 200 tenants in 23 rooming houses across the Cabbagetown neighbourhood, the project aims to build a better quality of life for tenants. The project launched last summer, and our team has been focusing on building relationships and connections with tenants,  within the houses, and to the resource-rich community. As the project progresses, we’re  also focusing on engaging tenants to participate in programming and creating leadership opportunities for them. Their ownership and participation in the project will be one of the key indicators of success.

From a Meal, a Food Bank Grows

One of the ways our team initially connected with tenants was through creating shared meal experiences, and we recently began weekly meal programs. Through our events, many tenants commented about their challenges accessing food. So our team initiated a needs assessment where we were able to confirm what we knew to be true in other Housing programs: that rooming house tenants also struggle with food insecurity and want support in accessing nutritious food and preparing healthy meals. Our team also learned about an existing initiative, named “The Warehouse”, initially supported by the Salvation Army,  a local community food bank risking closure due to limited capacity. Understanding these challenges presented a new opportunity: finding ways to address food insecurity while empowering tenants, and ensuring “The Warehouse” was not forced to close.

Thanks to the eagerness of tenants to get involved in the project, the Warehouse remains open. One of our tenants, Bill, has taken on the Manager role. He actively works with our team, the Salvation Army team, and Second Harvest to accept food donations and undertakes outreach to small businesses in the neighbourhood, inviting them to support the project. He’s very proud that a local pizza shop is now donating leftovers at the close of business.

Bill says running the Warehouse has helped him maintain his sobriety, has given him an opportunity to use his management skills, and has taught him how much he enjoys helping people. The Warehouse currently operates twice per month, with the goal of increasing to weekly operation. Next, the Warehouse plans to expand by offering a cooking group, where tenants can learn new skills on how to make meals enjoyable and nutritious.

Scenes from one of our weekly brunches, offered in part of our efforts to provide tenants access to food and social opportunities

The Ripple Effects of Staying Informed

With numerous locations in the community supported by the RHP, our team instituted regular tenant meetings to check-in. Through these gatherings, we learned that there was no formal information-sharing across the houses, and that tenants wanted to change this. Our team responded by creating “The Tenants Voice.” “The Tenants Voice” is a bi-monthly newsletter that tenants can contribute to, design, and edit.

“The Tenants Voice” has already grown from its initial call for submissions. One tenant shared photos of his intricate art sculptures, and another submitted an original poem themed around peace. Everyone loved the original artwork which resulted in exciting developments for this tenant-led initiative.

David, our sculptor, is now planning a sculpting basics workshop. We’re also collaborating with other tenants to develop additional workshops based on their needs. Regardless of topic, all workshops will be tenant-led. Workshops being planned include: boundary setting; managing triggers; and harm reduction. We’re empowering tenants to take on leadership roles and to put their unique skills to use. We've seen that when tenants can create a sense of purpose for themselves and continue to community build, they feel a greater sense of personal value all of which helps to reduce (or mitigate) social isolation.

A group excursion, enjoying the delights our city has to offer.

While the RHP is still a new project, the team is very proud of the work done so far. We’re even prouder of the progress we’ve seen as tenants get involved and take steps to become active participants in the community. Throughout 2019 our approach will be unchanged: to evolve elements of our work in response to tenant feedback and needs. We are confident that we can help tenants by supporting their efforts to create a better and more stable quality of life.