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A STAR is born

Toronto, December 1, 2014

By Geoff Koehler

Howard Freeman is one of the first people to benefit from the Urban Angel Fund for Homeless People
Howard Freeman is one of the first people to benefit from the Urban Angel Fund for Homeless People, which will test new ideas and approaches to help homeless people regain their lives through stable housing, professional and peer support, job assistance and other kinds of help. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

More than 5,000 people in Toronto are homeless on any given night. An anonymous gift of $10 million to the Urban Angel Fund for Homeless People has allowed St. Michael’s to develop a think-tank for homeless solutions with its sights set on reducing that figure.

St. Michael’s has established a “health-solutions incubator” focused on testing new approaches to help homeless and vulnerably housed people regain their independence.

The incubator’s first project is a recovery and learning centre called Supporting Transitions and Recovery, or STAR. The centre, which officially launched in September, has partnered with community organizations to offer a range of free classes from skills training to arts-based recreation. The classes are designed to support people as they make the transition to housing and work to recover their mental health.

“STAR works by helping people discover or rediscover activities that are meaningful to them and support their reintegration to the community,” said Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, psychiatrist-in-chief at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Howard Freedman, 68, was living in Seaton House when STAR came to the shelter this summer to talk about the programming. He saw it as an opportunity to expand knowledge and meet people.

The STAR courses that Freeman has taken:
  • Mindful or Mind Full?

  • Making $ense of your Money

  • Breathe In, Breathe Out (meditation)

  • Walk & Talk

  • Finding Common Ground – the art of making friends

  • Putting your Best Foot Forward (interview skills)

  • It’s Not Just Gym

  • How to be a “Real Man” – from macho man to sensitive New Age guy

  • Healthy Living on a Budget

  • Getting the Future you Want – How to set and achieve your goals
“It was a chance to get outside and interact,” said Freedman. “A chance to feel like a human being for a few hours.”

Freedman has taken several of the courses and even established his own course: “Walk and Talk.” Participants take a two-hour walk around the city, visiting historical or major sites in Toronto.

“It helps participants learn to build a rapport with people and re-introduces the concept of engaging with others,” said Freedman. “Plus it’s good exercise.”

Some of the courses he’s taken include budgeting, exercise and an entrepreneurial course. “I like the choice of the courses. It feels good to expand horizons and try new things.”

At the beginning of September, Freedman left Seaton House and is now living independently.

He has taken fewer classes since moving out on his own but expects to pick them up again soon.

“Any approach to homelessness must recognize the complex health issues and understand the loss of identity and positive social networks that go along with it,” said Dr. Stergiopoulos. “I’m thrilled that we now have an ongoing stream of funding to support a series of innovative ways to promote well-being, recovery and community integration for homeless people.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.