Photo of three people sitting together playing musical instraments

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2021, the House of Friendship saw an opportunity to redefine the meaning of home for homeless residents in Kitchener. They made the bold decision to pilot a new shelter care model that would bring healthcare and shelter care together, and the result was incredible.

Profile photo of Jessica Bondy, Housing Director for House of Friendship

“The concept had always been part of our annual strategic plan,” said Jessica Bondy, Housing Director for House of Friendship. “When the pandemic hit, we knew the need for these services would become even greater, so this goal we were slowly working towards needed to be accelerated. To bring this vision into action, we’ve worked together with other agencies and community partners in Waterloo Region who also support this vision and population. Together, we’ve been able to permanently house over 80 people in our community.”   

A key part of this new model involves bringing together social services and those within the healthcare system to support individuals in a more holistic way. Those who are homeless often experience a reduced life expectancy and other negative health outcomes. Having implemented a shelter in place model that emulates a typical housing environment, the House of Friendship was able to create a more dignified shelter experience, while providing access to healthcare and other necessary social supports.  

Over the past 15 months, over a dozen community partners came together to bring ShelterCare to life, including: The Centre for Family Medicine, Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre, Ray of Hope, Sanguen, The Working Centre, Addiction, Mental Health and Crisis Services Waterloo-Wellington, the Region of Waterloo Public Health, Erb Street Pharmacy, Lutherwood, and Courtney Harris Music Therapy Services.

“Having a space where you can stay 24/7, without having to pack-up and move your belongings and without the anxiety of having to fight for your spot was a stabilizing force that created a positive ripple effect,” said Bondy. “With a network of onsite supports available, such as counselling, mental health and addiction services, we were able to help people adapt, build life skills for the future and even address some of the root causes that led to them being homeless in the first place. For many, these supports have been lifechanging. They created a sense of excitement and hope for the future.”

For the House of Friendship, the success of the ShelterCare model is just the beginning. Advancing homeless services in our region, requires additional funding, and a permanent location for them to call home.

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“This is such an innovative community; housing and homelessness can be the next issue that we solve,” said Bondy. “We’re doing everything we can to bring more services and partners on site and working hard alongside other agencies to shed awareness on homelessness. With the amount of community support and services leaning in, with municipalities and the region playing their role, we can get closer to reaching our functional zero. It’ll take a lot of work, but we can end homelessness in Waterloo Region.”

The City is committed to working with the Region and community partners to create sustainable solutions to address the needs of people who are homeless in our city. It is estimated that there are more than 750 people who are homeless in Waterloo Region and ShelterCare fills an important gap in the housing continuum. Supporting the ShelterCare model and finding a permanent home for it is a strategic action of Housing for All, the city’s housing strategy which was developed under the caring community goal in Kitchener’s strategic plan.

Bondy was featured in Kitchener’s 2021 State of the City video along with other inspiring community leaders, residents and everyday heroes who have helped us get through the pandemic together. Mayor Berry Vrbanovic highlighted our community spirit during a challenging time and thanked all the people and partners who have helped keep us connected and resilient. 

For more information on the House of Friendship, visit www.houseoffriendship.org