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StreetCities: Rehousing the Homeless

Rae Bridgman
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 219
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    "A wonderful example of contemporary anthropology." - Irene Glasser, Community Renewal Team (CRT), Hartford, Connecticut

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0215-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 11-12)
  5. Note to the Reader: Ethical Research in a Shelter
    (pp. 13-18)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 19-20)

    StreetCities: Rehousing the Homelessprofiles two generations of a supportive non-profit housing model in Toronto for single, chronically homeless men and women, known as StreetCity. Based on principles of self-governance, self-help, mutual aid, and community development, and with its innovative design—a renovated warehouse with open public spaces and “houses” organized along a “main street”—the StreetCity model offers a transitional stepping stone for its 70 residents. Many are able to take control of their lives after years of homelessness and choose to move on. Others, though, have decided to live there permanently and now call it home.

    Here follows...

  7. Chapter One “Cities” within a City
    (pp. 21-30)

    In 1990,a unique alternative and supportive housing development for single, chronically homeless men and women over the age of 21 opened in the east end of Toronto. This project was StreetCity. A second-generation project, named Strachan House by its residents, opened shortly before Christmas, 1996, in the west end of the city.

    By targeting the chronically homeless, the two projects aimed to provide housing to people who had nowhere else to live. The term “chronically homeless” includes people living on the streets (e.g., on park benches, in ravines, under bridges) and those who move from shelter to shelter. It...

  8. Chapter Two Living Homeless: Jimmy’s Story
    (pp. 31-42)

    Many of thosewho came to live at StreetCity and Strachan House had intermittent contact with Toronto’s shelter system, but “chose” to live on the streets. Some had been barred from shelters for their aggressive or “irrational,” even bizarre, behaviours. These people were also excluded from existing supportive housing for the same reasons that they were not welcome in the shelters.

    The following stories of Karen and Jack, two “clients” who came to live at StreetCity, are adapted from a project description written by Paul Dowling, former executive director of the Homes First Society (Dowling 1999: 80). The stories are...

  9. Chapter Three Tom’s Story
    (pp. 43-52)

    Like Jimmy,Tom was in his late twenties when I interviewed him. He had been living at StreetCity for three months. Of all those I interviewed, Tom was the only one who, after telling his story, turned the tape recorder in my direction. In turn, he asked me aboutmylife—a life that we both concluded was a “total reversal” of his own in terms of stability.

    When asked about the meaning of the wordhomeless, he was one of the few to distinguish between the role of personal circumstances and society’s obligation to care about its citizens.


  10. Chapter Four Sarah’s Story
    (pp. 53-80)

    Sarah and Ihad many informal conversations, over two years, before my formal interview. (Sarah’s story was originally published as “The testimony of a once homeless Aboriginal woman: I can only start from my own story” [Bridgman 2001b].)

    I remember the day she told me it was her son’s birthday. I was surprised because I didn’t know she had a son. He was a “rape baby,” she said. She has not seen him since his birth. She gave him up after he was born many years ago. She keeps his small photograph beside her bed still. I know that she...

  11. Chapter Five Chronically Homeless in Canada
    (pp. 81-102)

    Who arethe chronically homeless? How many chronically homeless people are there? What are some of the larger political, social, and economic contexts affecting homelessness in Canada? How do large structural issues (e.g., lack of affordable housing, atrophying social assistance programs, gentrification of urban areas, deinstitutionalization, unemployment, effects of global economics on local labour markets, and changing government policies), and personal pathologies (e.g., physical or mental illness, substance addictions, and histories of abuse) intersect in multiple complex ways to swell the numbers of chronically homeless people in Canada and beyond? How have homeless people themselves challenged homelessness?

    This chapter synthesizes...

  12. Chapter Six StreetCity: The Vision
    (pp. 103-124)

    This chapterexplores the origins of StreetCity, the founding principles upon which the project was based, and how those principles played out “on the ground.” Chapter 7, which brings to life a Town Council meeting of StreetCity residents, complements this chapter.

    The story of StreetCity begins with “life on the street.” StreetCity grew from an idea generated by a small group of homeless and formerly homeless men and hostel workers, after a hostel at All Saints Church at Dundas and Sherbourne was replaced by permanent housing. Many hostel users were put out onto the streets. The group, known as The...

  13. Chapter Seven Town Council
    (pp. 125-138)

    This chapter invites the reader to a fictionalized meeting of the residents’ Town Council at StreetCity, using screenwriting conventions. I adopt this format even while acknowledging that “real characters, especially those living the dramatic, turmoiled life on the street, don’t adhere to any type of script. People drift in and out and attain no easy redemptions. Those who promise to go straight drift back to crack” (Bishop-Stall 2004).

    The script, set on a hot summer day, does not document any particular meeting, but draws upon my fieldnotes from many such meetings and the minutes of other meetings attended by staff...

  14. Chapter Eight StreetCity Too: Strachan House
    (pp. 139-152)

    This chapterlooks at the design and development of Strachan House, the second-generation project that followed StreetCity. In the same way that Chapters 6 and 7 worked together to bring to life the daily rhythms of StreetCity, Chapter 8 is complemented by Chapter 9—which examines the exhibition House/Home—to convey the everyday realities of Strachan House.

    The Province of Ontario finally confirmed funding to develop a second, more permanent facility, modelled after StreetCity, also to house 70 single men and women, just before Christmas 1994. Six months later, in June 1995, the newly elected Conservative provincial government announced massive...

  15. Chapter Nine Shelter, Housing, House, and Home
    (pp. 153-176)

    This chapterfocuses onHouse/Home—an exhibition of architectural drawings and photographs of Strachan House and some fieldnotes from my research. The exhibit represents a collaboration among architects, photographers, an anthropologist, and Strachan House residents. (See Bridgman 2002b for a full discussion of the exhibition.)

    The exhibition was mounted in the spring of 1999 in the Photo Passage at Harbourfront Centre as part of the third annual Toronto Festival of Photography, known as Contact ’99. The festival featured more than 130 exhibitions and educational programs. Harbourfront Centre itself is a high-profile cultural, educational, and recreational centre in Toronto and offers...

  16. Chapter Ten Lessons from StreetCity and Strachan House
    (pp. 177-190)

    In Chapter 1, I posed the following research questions:

    How can homeless people themselves challenge their own homelessness and the homelessness of others?

    How did the founding principles of self-help, mutual-aid, and community development work themselves out on the ground, at street level, over a number of years at StreetCity and Strachan House?

    To what degree were the two projects able to be implemented as planned? Were there barriers? How could these be addressed in the future?

    Were there shifts—for example, in organizational restructuring, policy changes, or funding constraints—over time?

    What lessons do StreetCity and Strachan House have...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 191-192)

    By the time I had finished writing this book, StreetCity had closed. I continue to return to Toronto regularly and still visit Strachan House every few months to catch up with some of the residents and staff. It has been difficult, though, to keep in touch with many of the people I met in the course of my research. Some residents returned to the streets. Many moved from the city. And I moved from Toronto to Winnipeg in 1998 to take up a position at the University of Manitoba. It is with some sadness that I will never see many...

  18. Timeline
    (pp. 193-196)

    1980s: Staff members of agencies working with homeless people in downtown Toronto begin meeting to share ideas and resources about how to help the street population. The group names itself the Single Displaced Persons Project (SDP) and takes on an advocacy role. The SDP successfully lobbies the Ontario government to include single people in eligibility requirements for all social housing. Up to this time, families with children, seniors, and those living with particular disabilities were the only ones eligible for subsidized housing in Ontario.

    1983: The SDP establishes a non-profit organization, the Homes First Society, in order to develop permanent...

  19. Press Coverage on StreetCity and Strachan House (selected)
    (pp. 197-202)
  20. References
    (pp. 203-212)
  21. Index
    (pp. 213-220)