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York Region’s Blue Door rebrands to laser-focus on housing homeless

June 26, 2020
 20200626 blue door logo

‘When people think of a shelter, often they think about a makeshift place, they’re not really thinking of a home,’ CEO of largest emergency housing provider in York Region says”

 By: Kim Champion

York Region’s largest provider of supportive emergency housing for people who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless today unveiled its new branding logo that leaves the word ‘shelter’ behind.

The former Blue Door Shelters is now known as Blue Door Support Services and operates simply as Blue Door.

“When people think of a shelter, often they think about a makeshift place, they’re not really thinking of a home,” CEO Michael Braithwaite said. “We launched a new strategic plan where our focus is largely driven by housing people because that’s what they deserve. We chose to remove the word shelter because of the stigma that surrounds it.”

Blue Door operates three facilities in York Region, including Kevin’s Place for male youth in Newmarket, Porter Place for adult men in East Gwillimbury, and Leeder Place for families in Holland Landing. It will continue to provide housing supports and services to the people of York Region, as it has done for the past 38 years.

This July, it will offer an at-risk family a newly renovated home in Markham, thanks to a partnership with a federal agency that saw Blue Door raise the capital to fix the neglected house. Blue Door hired social enterprise Building Up to do the work, which creates pathways for individuals experiencing barriers to enter apprenticeships and careers in the trades.

“When completed, with the capital put in, we’re basically buying 15 to 20 years of rent-free housing for families at Blue Door,” he said.

That’s part of the organization’s two programs called Abode and Forward, spread out over five upcoming new homes. Abode will allow for a one-year stay and Forward a six-month period, to provide second stage low-rental housing for vulnerable families, seniors, and LGBTQ2S+ youth who need longer-term support to overcome barriers.

As the rebranding implies, Blue Door has evolved from just providing services and shelter to its clients to taking an innovative approach to moving people to permanent supportive and affordable housing.

“Blue Door believes, as many do, that everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. So our focus is on housing, and while there will always be a need for emergency housing, to get clients into a place where they have a key, where they can feel proud to hold onto that key for their own place, to be excited about the first person they’re going to invite over for coffee, that’s what the whole idea is centred around,” said Braithwaite.

According to Blue Door’s 2019 annual report released last week, nearly 400 individuals and families were rapidly rehoused. The clients came through its emergency housing programs, as well as its Housing to Health program run in partnership with LOFT and the Krasman Centre.

Last year also saw the non-profit organization help clients find support around mental and physical health, food security and family supports.

The key focus then, as now, and into the future, will be on helping people move to safe, affordable, and long-term housing.

This September, Blue Door will launch an employment social enterprise of its own known as Construct. It hopes to place 55 participants in the program that will provide construction skills training, wraparound supports, and the experience needed to secure well-paying, in-demand careers in the trades.

By connecting graduates directly to employment, Construct aims to lift participants out of poverty and help them to afford and keep a home of their own.

Blue Door’s new secondary housing programs also include supportive and affordable housing for families, the first-ever LGBTQ2S+ housing program for youth, and a six-month program for senior men who may need more time before they’re housed.

“And we have a focus on health, mental and physical health, and we’re working with community partners like CHMA, Southlake, Addiction Services York Region and others because our clients can’t stay housed if their physical and mental health needs are not looked after,” Braithwaite said.

“So that’s our focus, Blue Door becomes that brand encompassing all those things,” he added.

Additionally, 2019 also saw the launch of Blue Door’s national homelessness and housing podcast, Out of the Blue, which sparked the beginnings of new partnerships with medical professionals and many other community partners.

“One of the silver linings of this pandemic is people have seen you cannot remain healthy without a home, you can’t self-isolate without a home,” Braithwaite said. “So they’re seeing that, and governments will continue to invest in more affordable options, and we need to engage landlords.”

Housing stock is always a challenge in York Region, Braithwaite said, especially with a vacancy rate that’s one of the lowest in Canada, even if an individual could afford market rent.

Landlords could be part of the solution, he said, adding that a challenge he issued earlier this year to help house 100 individuals is nearing a 50 percent success rate.

Braithwaite said he’s talking with community partners now such as the Salvation Army, CHMA, LOFT, Yellow Brick House, and others to take it on a much bigger scale to house 200 or more individuals.

“I can’t sit on my hands, we’re looking to the future, and how do we redevelop Kevin’s Place,” he said, of the Gorham Street youth emergency housing facility. “It’s a small house on a bigger piece of land, so how can we make that into rental housing so the whole community and not just our clients’ benefits, because there’s hardly any rental housing in Newmarket.”

Blue Door is partnering now with Habitat for Humanity to work on what that model could look like.

Blue Door’s new three-year strategic plan is aimed at ending homelessness and focuses on housing individuals and families. Using a housing-first approach, it aims to prevent people from entering chronic homelessness, rapidly rehousing those that do and support individuals and families at risk of losing their homes.

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Editor’s note: The original article was edited to correct the anticipated September 2020 start of the Construct program.