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Homelessness podcast shifts the narrative

June 22, 2023

Posted on: June 22nd, 2023. By: A Place to Call Home Staff,, Original Article.

At a glance
  • The On the Way Home podcast was created by non-profit group, Blue Door to explore housing and homelessness solutions across Canada.
  • Hosted by Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite, the podcast features a wide variety of guests including researchers, doctors, academics, advocates and people with lived experience.
  • Four years and 100+ episodes in, Michael and his team continue to seek out innovation, expertise and scalable solutions that can benefit communities across Canada.

When a friend suggested to Michael Braithwaite that he start a podcast on homelessness, he turned to his kids for advice.

“They said, ‘Yeah, Dad, no one listens to the radio.’”

Plus, the friend pointed out, no one else was really doing it.

Four years and more than 100 episodes later, Blue Door’s On the Way Home podcast has summarized numerous reports, shared innovations and been dubbed a ‘master class on housing.’

For Michael, it has uncovered a huge variety of perspectives on housing and homelessness from Canada and overseas. It has also created valuable connections for his day job as Blue Door’s CEO.

Inspiring through innovation

Blue Door has been supporting vulnerable individuals in the areas of housing, homelessness, health and employment for more than 40 years.

Michael has been working in the homelessness sector for almost 30 years. In many ways, the segue from community advocate to podcaster was an easy one.

“I’m a housing nerd,” says Michael. “It fires me up.”

Launched in 2019, and targeted toward the social service sector, On the Way Home digs deep into housing challenges and those on the cutting edge of solutions.

“If you ask a general citizen about homelessness they’ll say ‘Yeah, you mean downtown Toronto?’ They know it exists, but they don’t really know the breadth and depth of the problem.”

He also wanted to shift the tone of the narrative.

“You hear lot of negative things. Homelessness is getting worse. There’s not enough affordable housing, food insecurity, inflation. There’s no doubt that the subject matter that we’re tackling, it’s tough. But the show is not meant to be depressing and down. We look for what’s innovative and different. What’s inspiring.”

Partnering for success

About a year into production, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) approached Blue Door with an opportunity to collaborate.

“They said ‘Hey, we’re also thinking of doing a podcast, but yours is really good. Would you work with us?’” Michael recalls. “A lot of what they do is information sharing and building consensus. They also have a 10,000 strong membership so of course we said, yes.” Blue Door also reached out to CMHC.

“We said, CMHC has got a lot of programs and they’re doing a lot of good, but people may not be aware of them,” says Michael.

“When the opportunity came across my desk, I remember thinking this is a great way to reach people,” says Marina Sloutsky, a knowledge transfer specialist with CMHC.

“We have helped to curate episodes featuring CMHC representatives and partners that both support the work of the podcast’s audience, and CMHC’s aspiration.”

In addition to reports and information, On the Way Home has interviewed several CMHC housing specialists.

In 2022, Julia Markovich discussed her research on Evictions with Senior Adults and earlier this year Angela Shleihauf discussed the latest round of Housing Supply Challenge.

“Everyone I’ve met at CMHC is very passionate about the work they’re doing and excited to share,” says Michael. “And breaking down the programs can help someone go from ‘This isn’t for us’ to ‘Let’s apply’.”

Scalable innovation

Deeper understanding and relatable experience can also help scale ideas.

“We had Dr. Louis Francescutti on from Edmonton. He’s an ER doctor and a professor. He said they were discharging too many people from the hospital into homelessness. So, together with his team and a local housing provider, he started a program. It’s seamless and what he said right off the bat is, ‘It’s scalable.’”

“We had Emma Wood, who now works at Blue Door. She was finishing university and looking at food insecurity in her area, and said, I want to do meals that are healthy and delicious for people. To see a 25-year-old start her own business with just drive and passion and make it work. That’s inspiring!”

For some, innovation means ‘out of business.’

Neil Hetherington, who runs Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, is an incredible guy. He says ‘Put me out of work. We don’t need more food banks. We need housing and health care and income. If we have those things, there’s no need for daily bread. I would love a day when there’s no daily bread.’ That honesty is…Wow, man.”

If you ask a general citizen about homelessness they’ll say ‘Yeah, you mean downtown Toronto?’ They know it exists, but they don’t really know the breadth and depth of the problem.– Michael Braithwaite, host, On the Way Home

Some of the most emotive episodes feature guests with lived experience.

“These are people who have overcome incredible hurdles,” says Michael. “But they’ve found a way through.

We had a gentleman on from Edmonton who almost died on the streets. He saw his girlfriend get shot in front of him. And now he’s the executive director of a program that helps addicts escape homelessness in Edmonton.”

“As much as we’re different, we’re the same”

When the podcast began it was produced mostly in a studio in Toronto. But with the onset of the pandemic, Michael and his team were forced to reach farther afield.

“We’ve had guests from across Canada but also the US, Australia, Finland, Norway and the UK. And other than the time difference, it’s beautiful to have that kind of transferable information.

There’s no doubt that the subject matter that we’re tackling, it’s tough. But the show is not meant to be depressing and down. We look for what’s innovative and different. What’s inspiring.– Michael Braithwaite, host, On the Way Home

In Australia, for example, they’re struggling with Indigenous homelessness. It’s different, but the issues they are facing in Northern Australia are very similar to what we’re facing in Canada.”

The podcast often features housing advocates, but, “We steer away from pointing fingers. We’re pushing them on solutions. How can we turn this corner?”

Dream guest

When asked to name his dream guest, the answer is easy.

“Justin Trudeau. You’ve got a good personality. He enjoys the conversations. We can ask some tougher questions,” says Michael, adding “And it would be fun.”

“We’re not a ‘gotcha’ podcast. We can hammer him on what he hasn’t done because I think he would probably be the first one to say, ‘Of course, we’re not there yet. But, let’s talk about some of the great things, some of the steps forward we’ve taken and where we need to go.”

New horizons

The podcast continues to find new audiences, sometimes in unexpected places.

“Toronto Metropolitan University was teaching a course and used the podcast for their case studies,” says Michael. “We were thrilled. That’s what it’s there for.”

With a number one goal to increase listenership in Canada, Michael and his team want to make sure they are pushing the narrative and tackling issues that reflect what’s happening in the sector.

Key to this? A great guest list.

“If you have research or case studies that can help and inform, please reach out,” says Michael. “We would love to have a chat with you.”

Key Facts