In 1987, a Toronto based community group was extremely concerned about the lack of immediate support available to newly arrived refugees. Passionate to help the less fortunate, this group conducted outreach work to examine the basic needs of refugee claimants and to explore innovative solutions to assist them. It was clear then that what these children, youth, women and men needed was shelter.
In 1989 backed by the financial support from the Council of Christian Churches, the Metropolitan Housing Commission, individuals, foundations and corporations a downtown Toronto building located at 51 Bond Street was renovated, this became the first Sojourn House. In its inception Sojourn House was able to provide short term shelter to 25 newly arrived refugees.
Over the years it became clear that some refugees were experiencing troubles settling in the community due to the trauma of their refugee experience. Refugees who were experiencing settlement difficulties would often return to the shelter program seeking ongoing supports. It was apparent to the Sojourn House board and staff that high need clients where in need of longer term supportive housing.
In 2001 a Transitional Supportive Housing program was developed as a vision for a new Sojourn House. This would be the first program of its kind for newcomer refugees in Canada. Sojourn House acquired startup funds to build a new building that would include not just a shelter program but a two year housing stabilization and support program for refugees experiencing settlement difficulties.
The new building, located at 101 Ontario Street, opened in May 2006. With this new building we were able to expand our shelter capacity to 50 beds. We were also able to incorporate our envisioned Transitional Housing program with a capacity of 52 units. The project was a huge undertaking for a small agency; an 11 million dollar project that realized a unique model of shelter and transitional supportive housing for refugee claimants and refugees experiencing settlement difficulties.
With the Transitional Housing program now in place, high needs clients can take part of a two year subsidized supportive housing program. The Transitional Housing program offers on-site support and guidance through their refugee, immigration and settlement process.
In 2012 Sojourn House was awarded the Newcomer Championship award by the Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in recognition of our unique model of providing both Shelter and Transitional Housing. Sojourn House has been toured by visiting diplomats and refugee advocates from around the globe. Our model has been presented at conferences as a best practice model for refugee integration.
Sojourn House has tripled in size. Our Family Program opened in 2019 at an additional location. We have also added a satellite location for single men due to the increasing demand for emergency refugee shelter needs.
Due to the high number of separated refugee youth, we initiated Skills for Life Program for youth that come to Canada with no family or connections. Youth have been prioritized for units in the Transitional Housing Program.