Students from King’s University College’s Community Support Centre work out of the Salvation Army’s London Centre of Hope. Photo courtesy King’s College Community Support Centre

Homeless crisis spurs King’s initiative expansion

  • January 19, 2024

In the face of a nation gripped with a rising homeless crisis, King’s University College Community Support Centre has expanded its program to ensure it can continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in the community.

Despite the program starting just one year ago, an increased demand has allowed the initiative to join forces in the London, Ont., region with the Unity Project, a local housing-outcome-focused emergency shelter. Barrier-free support is being provided by undergraduate and masters students from the School of Social Work at King’s University College, a Roman Catholic, co-educational, liberal arts college affiliated with Western University. This month marks the beginning of the delivery of counselling support to the Unity Project after a period of preparation and research done by the students during the fall school term. 

“This program was developed in part to respond to the significant community need for our homeless population, but also to respond to the broader community crisis of wait lists and demand for service,” said M.K. Arundel, coordinator of Field Education for the School of Social Work at King’s. 

On a day-to-day basis, students provide counselling services — both online and in-person — such as intake assessments and resource connection under the supervision of a clinical supervisor. When they’re not providing support, the adult-learning model allows students to study cases they have worked on to create evidence-informed practice to best address other clients they will encounter.  

It’s been a time of steady development for the Community Support Centre. Initially the program offered counselling to shelter service users through Salvation Army and Mission Services of London. Now, the centre is able to provide free group counselling to community members both seeking housing and looking to maintain it. 

The aim is to address components such as mental health, substance-use recovery and previous trauma in increasing wait times. The team at King’s College understands and stresses the importance of reaching people in need as soon as possible, allowing clients to “bypass” unrealistic and costly delays. 

“When a person actually gets to the point where they’re ready to make that call for help, where they’re ready to engage in service, we don’t want to miss that window of opportunity,” Arundel stressed. “Some of those folks are calling because they’re in dire straits. They are without hope (and) there can be the risk of harm to themselves. We don’t want to miss that window of opportunity either.”

Students are delivering the services in the field from last September until the end of July, leaving only a period of four to six weeks where there isn’t service being provided to those who need it most. This integration of theory and practice allows the School of Social Work to deliver the best experience for its clients and students. It allows them to find out what’s working, what isn’t and how to improve care for the next client. 

“Not only getting the direct practice experience of social work, but they’re also getting the more macro-level research-based content from the program as well,” said Arundel. 

The support centre is also working on the third phase of its initiative, facilitated peer support circles and professional development.

Apart from developing phase three further, Arundel is looking forward to more growth in 2024.  

“It’s why I get up in the morning,” she said. “This is a partnership and none of this can happen without eager, like-minded, cup-half-full people and we’ve got a team of them. I’m excited every day to be able to work with them.” 

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