St. Christopher House, 1912-2012: a century of social services in Toronto

Unionization

Starting in the late 1970s, funding restraints began having a serious effect on the House. The number of community centres in the neighbourhood doubled, giving the area the highest ratio of centres to citizens in all of the city. This resulted in the centres having to compete for limited funds at the expense of newer centres. At the same time, political pressure was being put on funding  sources to redistribute money away from the downtown core and into the suburban areas. Programming was subsequently curtailed, staff duties were reorganized, and positions of staff on maternity and sick leave were left unfilled. The resulting instability and concern over job security led to the unionization of the House’s staff in the fall of 1981. The House’s local joined with that of St. Stephen’s Community House to form Local 2289 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the first contract was signed in August 1982.

Home Help program

In 1980, St. Christopher House inaugurated its Home Help program. In conjunction with Meals on Wheels, it provided support to elderly and disabled persons who were unable to manage their own housekeeping tasks but who otherwise did not need or want institutional care. Home helpers were hired to do banking, shopping, cleaning and laundry, and volunteers were recruited to pay social visits to lonely shut-ins. Most of the Home Support clients were over seventy years of age and lived in small pensions in rooms or flats. With no immediate family to care for them, they relied on the help provided by the staff and volunteers of the House. Often, this service was the difference between staying at home and having to go to a nursing home or losing independence in other ways.

Youth leadership and employment programs

Leadership training had long been an important part of youth programming at the House, but since the late 1970s, the focus of youth service shifted even more from recreational programming to leadership and life skills development. In 1981, fifteen teens graduated from the first Teen Life Skills Program, where they learnt about education, sexuality, family relationships and jobs. Following a study conducted in 1983 by the newly formed Special Projects Unit of the House, a range of programs were created that targeted youth unemployment: The Metro Job Youth Corps offered young workers an opportunity to gain work skills and experience by working for non-profit organizations doing painting, cleaning, typing, filing and other similar tasks, while receiving counseling and life skills training. At the end, they were given a paid placement with supportive employers and ongoing coaching from St. Chris’ staff; the MicroCHIP program offered youth training and experience in small business computer services,  bookkeeping and accounting; and the Youth Employment Counselling Centre, a large provincially-funded program located at 1312 Queen St. West,  assisted hundreds of unemployed youth. It included a FUTURES program that paid employers to hire and train young adults. All youth employment programs moved to 195 Liberty Avenue in the early 1990s.

Meeting Place Adult Drop-In

In 1986, St. Christopher House began addressing the needs of single isolated adults and homeless individuals by opening the Meeting Place Adult Drop-in at 761 Queen St. West. The following year, the program expanded to five afternoons a week with social and recreational activities, special evening events, and crisis intervention for 714 adults. In 1988, two new programs were added: the Sky Project Courier Service (a self-help group for people with addictions, where members delivered parcels for the House), and the Radio Drop-in (a weekly show on CKLN Radio focusing on the issues of housing and poverty) hosted and produced by the members of the Meeting Place. The Drop-In program grew steadily over the years, counting over 1200 members at the end of the decade. In 1995 the Meeting Place was relocated to 588 Queen Street West.

Relocation

By 1980 there was once again talk of relocation, as the House reviewed the changes taking place in the neighbourhood, future funding trends, and the co-ordination of existing services. Less affordable housing and a significant decline in the number of children changed the character of the neighbourhood. It was also losing its role as a first home for new immigrants, as more newcomers were locating in areas north of highway 401. The Board concluded that the services offered by the House were more urgently needed west of Bathurst Street, where there was a high concentration of Portuguese speaking residents, and available services were few. In early 1985, the Augusta Avenue site was sold and the funds generated were invested in purchasing a house at 53 Argyle Street. Some services also moved to the Westennial United Church at 248 Ossington Avenue, where the new central facility would eventually be built. After a large fundraising campaign, the House finally put shovel to the ground in February of 1989 and began construction of the new site, which opened in December of that year. In 1997, the Church’s congregation disbanded and transferred their property to the House.

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