Nobody chooses to be homeless. Oftentimes, our barriers to essential services are not because of a choice we made, but because of deeply ingrained power imbalances and stigma. As a queer woman, Lucia Borrelli from the Toronto branch of Canadian Mental Health Association knows very well the barriers people can face when seeking something as essential as housing simply because of who they love, or an illness they suffer from.
Lucia Borrelli is the Concurrent Disorders Specialist and Case Manager at the Housing First (HF) Program at Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto Branch. Along with her team, Lucia works within a client-centred rights-based framework to advocate for clients and support their individual recovery needs. She works closely with city landlords to secure housing for clients who are experiencing homelessness or precariously housed.
In the housing market, it may seem that landlords hold absolute power, but this isn’t always the case. When Lucia’s client’s rental application was denied due to them not meeting the landlords’ income ratio criteria, Lucia knew that this was a violation of her client’s human rights. With her 5 years of experience in the mental health and substance abuse field, Lucia has witnessed time and time again how stigma and systemic oppression keep individuals trapped in poverty and prevent them from achieving their personal goals.
Not taking “no” for an answer, Lucia consulted with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about the situation her client was facing. With their guidance, she wrote a heartfelt yet assertive letter informing the landlord that they were violating the OHRC. Thanks to Lucia’s perseverance, the landlord reversed their position and approved the client’s rental application.
Even as an experienced and competent social worker, the fight to advocate for clients can be a relentless uphill battle. This is why Lucia believes it is so important for us to empower ourselves with knowledge of our rights in order to fight systemic barriers and never take “no” for an answer. With education, advocacy, and compassion for our community, we can stand up against people who try to exploit and violate our basic human rights.