Ashley Edstrom Comrie
“Teamwork makes the dream work” – a phrase we are all familiar with, and something that a housing team at the City of Toronto knows very well. Sometimes it just takes the right people at the right time to come together for that dream work to happen.
In early 2020 Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), the Social Development and Finance Administration (SDFA) and Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) were working on a pilot project to fight homelessness using a Coordinated Access approach that would connect tenants with their own unit as well as wrap-around support services. In March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the partners and the City all agreed that it was time to ramp up the pilot and move as many people as possible into homes. The Furniture Bank quickly joined the team to assist with furnishing units and Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS) dedicated staff to assist with income support for people accessing the program, and the Rapid Rehousing Initiative was born.
In the first few weeks of the project, it was all hands on deck. With Ashley Edstrom Comrie, a social worker and dedicated public servant at the operations helm, SSHA, TCHC, TESS, and the Furniture Bank worked tirelessly; putting in up to 16 hours of work a day as they formed connections, planned policies, and scheduled all the things that needed to happen in order to get people moved into their new housing.
In an unfortunate turn of events, just six weeks into the Rapid Rehousing Initiative, our SSHA Operations Lead, Ashley came down with a severe case of COVID-19. She spent two months in the hospital fighting for her life amidst double lung collapse and brain and heart inflammation. When Ashley first went to the hospital in April 2020, the Rapid Rehousing team was devastated. They worried for her health, but the team that had been brought together was strong and resilient. They regularly gathered on the lawn outside her hospital window, holding up signs to say they loved her, they were thinking of her, and giving her updates on the program that they all worked so hard to build. It was rough for the first few weeks, but Ashley’s spirit filled the atmosphere as the team rallied and continued to work together to house the most vulnerable people in the city.
This amazing cooperation across the sector has resulted in 744 individuals experiencing homelessness being housed in 540 TCHC units from March 2020 to June 2021. The initiative and partnerships that accomplished this continue to this day with around 10 new households securing housing each week.
This group of collaborators would often joke that they were building the plane as they were flying it, but they managed to move the program forward and innovate new ways of working that allowed them to provide support to the people who need it most. It was the combination of groundwork, teamwork and passion for their work that enabled all involved to achieve such promising results.