Founded in 1972, volunteer Board Members were visionary leaders. They responded to a crisis in the City of Toronto, the closing of psychiatric hospitals in the 70’s. These caring volunteers were responsible for the creation of AIS as a charitable non-profit organization. Clients who were being discharged from hospitals with no plans in place were in jeopardy. “Back then, discharge involved a street car ticket and the directions to the welfare office, which wasn’t the friendliest place”, Noel Simpson, Founder. AIS organized to create supportive housing opportunities for them. Additionally, these volunteers secured funding from the Pierre Trudeau Government, at that time, and called Local Initiatives Projects to provide support services. These services helped the clients to adapt to life outside of an institutional setting. The goal was to enhance their independent living skills. The result was fuller participation in communities.
Special gratitude is extended to these supportive housing pioneers:
- Noel Simpson
- Ron Ballantyne
- George Sneyde
- Britta Barnes
- Jill Downes
- Gail Funston
- Paula Baker
- Sheila Bailey
- Glen Shipman
Many AIS projects such as supportive housing and case management were the first of their kind in Ontario.
In the 1970’s,as psychiatric hospitals closed in Ontario, patients were forced to live without adequate support services. To avoid the revolving door syndrome of frequent hospital admissions and homelessness AIS developed an innovative solution and became a leader in providing supportive housing. Simpson adds, “Again, AIS continued its place as a forerunner of things to come.”
AIS pioneered a community-based mental health service that was well-received by clients and mental health providers. Board volunteers created a supportive housing model. They oversaw the property management of seven apartment units above a store in the east end of the City of Toronto. This successful experience established a model and standard that many others have followed. Volunteerism was a mainstay of AIS. For over four years, the agency operated solely with the compassion and energy of volunteers!
AIS expanded the successful model. Constructing a 15-unit apartment building in Riverdale provided permanent, affordable, supportive housing to 15 people who were living in transient situations.
Two newly hired community support workers provided tenants with a range of services such as assessment, supportive counseling, advocacy, and skills teaching.
Couples and families moved into AIS’s newly built 13-unit building in Toronto’s Beaches neighborhood to extend this independent model of supportive housing.
AIS created a Community Development program to complement the support service and to provide tenants with opportunities for developing leadership skills, socializing and learning or re-learning household management skills.
AIS purchased a mixed-use residential/commercial building in the Annex to address the growing problem of homelessness on the streets of Toronto. This innovative funding model was a first for the supportive housing community. This building contained three commercial tenants on the ground floor and 16 residential apartments on the second and third floor. Revenue from this commercial enterprise has provided additional funds. We hope to one day leverage this building to expand our housing portfolio.
AIS converted a building in downtown Toronto which had been vacant, boarded up and derelict for over a decade. This provides 20 apartments and includes a rooftop terrace for outdoor amenities.
2008 – 2015
Over 113 people now receive accommodation, information, and support through AIS. Specially equipped units for 10 persons who are deaf or hard of hearing were designed to meet their unique needs. Two Support Staff members are proficient in American Sign Language.
AIS increased the housing options for a 15 additional clients. Through a community partnership with Wigwamen Housing, clients moved into the former Pan Am Athletes’ Village, now called 75 Cooperage.
To meet the needs of aging homeless people, AIS plans to build two accessible apartment units in the rear yard at the Riverdale building as soon as funds become available, This will provide existing tenants an opportunity to ‘age in place’ in a community of their choice.
To meet the accessibility needs of tenants with disabilities we have recently improved the buildings by adding automatic door openers, grab bars, accessible height toilets, additional railings, non-slip tub surfaces, visual warning strips on stairs and improved corridor lighting.
Additionally, for several years, tenants have planned and planted for the creation of a Healing Garden that will give the sense of an urban oasis with the sweet aroma of colourful flowers, the cool shade of trees, and the refreshing taste of herbs tenants can use to spice up their cooking.
The recent Client Satisfaction Survey Report, 2017 highlights that AIS continues to provide high-quality supportive housing. Most respondents stated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with AIS’ Support Services. The most important Recovery Factors noted in the Report were:
- Having safe, permanent, affordable, supportive housing
- Having a sense of purpose in life
- Having hope for the future
- Living independently
Support services were rated as positively supporting clients in their recovery and overall well-being:
“Knowing there is someone I can always count on regardless of the situation I may be dealing with.”
“Recovery means making sure I am strong enough to face challenges, and if not, I have Staff to help me.”
“It’s important that I don’t feel isolated and the socials and programs offered at AIS are conducive to getting out of my apartment.”
News reports highlight AIS work:
“Residences contributed to the strength of the local neighbourhood in ways that went beyond mutual respect and friendliness”, an expert study reports. “Housing people with mental illnesses in residential neighbourhoods doesn’t harm property values or increase crime,” the Toronto Star wrote.
“In fact, supportive housing can have a positive effect on the community, says We Are Neighbours, a three-year study of the social and economic impact of housing for people with mental illness.” For more, see
AIS has released its 2017 Spring Newsletter.