Frequently Asked Questions

Causes of Homelessness

Homelessness can happen to anyone. Homelessness is a crisis an individual experiences; it does not define the person.

The causes of homelessness are diverse, for example – a lack of funding for supports, a shortage of affordable housing and various barriers that either intentionally or unintentionally prevent people from acquiring adequate housing (e.g., criminalization of homelessness and poverty, gentrification, discrimination). Some of these structural factors have become even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, where livelihoods were lost, rent became even more difficult to afford and crucial supports were limited or suspended entirely.

Other factors that can force an individual into homelessness include traumatic events, personal crises, mental health challenges, exposure to violence or abuse, physical health problems, disabilities and a lack of support for immigrants and refugees. Sometimes, it takes only one of these factors to wind up living on the street. Other times, it is a combination of factors which lead to homelessness.

The most significant, encompassing and growing cause of homelessness is simply poverty and the inability to pay the rent.

Solutions to Homelessness

Housing, with supports, is the solution to homelessness; Income, the solution to poverty.

Collectively, we have known this base solution for years:

  1. Increase wages and social assistance rates and ultimately, we need a basic/minimum income, and;
  2. Create truly affordable, quality housing whether through de-commodification of housing, rent controls, refurb/retrofit/maintenance, or new public housing builds.


Unity Project relies on a number of different funding sources. Emergency shelter funding is primarily City of London’s Community Homeless Prevention Initiative fund, managed by the Homeless Prevention System. United Way Elgin Middlesex is the majority funder of our Housing Stability Program. Our silent art auction fundraiser UPwithART is our signature fundraising event. Unity Project relies on Individuals, Foundations, Businesses, Unions, Events and Third Party Events for nearly 40% of its overall budget,  to ensure the sustainability and the well being of our programs and operations.  Our Annual Reports provide condensed financials and funder recognition and can be viewed on the About page.

No. Unity Project is a Canadian Registered Charity (#859628851RR0001). Our emergency shelter programming is contracted by City of London and while much of our revenue is from municipal government sources, employees at Unity Project do not work for a government.

The answer to this question comes down to personal choice, although we recommend at least making eye contact and acknowledging individuals politely, even if your answer is a no. According to Homeless Hub, many people who panhandle are routinely ignored, cussed at, harassed, robbed, or assaulted. Eye contact is an affirming and a respectful nod to the individual.

It is important that you give individuals experiencing homelessness the dignity and respect of making their own choices.

If you are conflicted with concern that the individual will spend your money on drugs, cigarettes or alcohol… ask yourself, “why do I try to control what a homeless individual does with the money I give them but not my grocer, my waiter, my drycleaner, etc.? To act without judgement and with respect is to consider that what you are giving is a gift and no longer ‘your money’ once given.

Giving food and clothing might be welcome, but makes a lot of presumptions. It is best to ask a person what they need or want.

If you are still conflicted but want to help individuals who are street-involved, then perhaps you can carry coffee gift cards (and disposable masks) to distribute. This will assist panhandlers to get indoors, use a washroom, and access food or beverages of their choice.

Harm Reduction is an evidence-based, participant-focused approach to decrease the negative health impacts and social harm of addiction and substance use. These approaches are often delivered in a series of programs, services and strategies which safeguard an individual’s right to choose their own method of treatment, using choice-based strategies to enhance a participant’s skills and knowledge. The result is an empowered individual who can make informed, self-guided decisions to live a safer, healthier life.

Harm Reduction meets participants where they are and aims to provide non-judgmental support that respects the privacy and dignity of the individual. Using people-first language, the participant is supported by peers, medical services and social services.

The key is that practitioners of Harm Reduction are non-judgmental. At Unity Project, our value words, Respect, Cooperation, Interdependence and Compassion inform our implementation of this approach. Our staff use Harm Reduction every day when interacting with participants.

Overdoses happen when an individual takes more of an opioid dose than their bodies can handle. It is particularly dangerous and considered a medical emergency, as the user’s breathing can become slower and shallower — or, in severe cases, stop completely. Lack of oxygen can quickly lead to loss of consciousness, brain damage and death. Someone suspected of an overdose should be treated promptly. Naloxone, a medication to temporarily reverse or slow the effects of an opioid overdose, is one of the most important first aid tools in this situation. Treatment needs to be exclusively performed by trained personnel.

According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, naloxone temporarily blocks opioids from binding to the receptors in the brain and body, thereby restoring breathing and preventing brain damage and death. In Middlesex-London, naloxone will be given by means of an injection into the arm or thigh muscle. A second dose of naloxone may be necessary within three to five minutes if the overdose is not reversed within that time frame. During an overdose, other life-saving measures are also very important, such as performing basic life support and calling 911. Emergency medical care is critical as the effects of the naloxone wear off in about 30 to 90 minutes and overdose symptoms may return.

From the Middlesex-London Health Unit: Through The Naloxone Program, people who are at risk of opioid overdose will be trained to administer naloxone. Our hope is that people who use substances in peer group situations will have a trained naloxone administrator in the group who can administer the medication should it be required.

Similar overdose prevention programs in place in Ontario, and around the world, provide training in basic lifesaving skills and naloxone administration within peer groups. Once trained, individuals are given a pocket-sized overdose prevention kit which includes two doses of naloxone.

You can acquire naloxone for free from this list of pharmacies, community organizations and provincial correctional facilities.

If you are an individual at risk of opioid overdose, or currently using opioids, and are interested in being trained to save a life, please call the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection at 519.434.1601 and ask to speak to someone about The Naloxone Program.

Please Note: London InterCommunity Health Centre’s weekly naloxone training days are on hold due to COVID-19.

For more information, visit

The basic premise of Housing First is that an individual can more readily move towards stability if they are first housed (with supports). This means that shelter is the principal concern, and other challenges can be addressed in full after stable housing has been acquired.

According to Homeless Hub, Housing First has 5 key tenants:

  1. Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements. Access to housing is never conditional.
  2. Consumer choice and self-determination. Housing First is a rights-based, client-centred approach that emphasizes client choice in terms of housing and supports.
  3. Recovery orientation. Housing First practice is not simply focused on meeting basic client needs, but on supporting recovery. A recovery orientation focuses on individual well-being, and ensures that clients have access to a range of supports that enable them to nurture and maintain social, recreational, educational, occupational and vocational activities.
  4. Individualized and client-driven supports. A participant-driven approach recognizes that individuals are unique, and so are their needs.
  5. Social and community integration. Part of the Housing First strategy is to help people integrate into their community and this requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities.

Unity Project does not currently accept unsolicited in-kind donations. If we need a certain item, we will put out a specific call for it., or we will purchase the item ourselves to ensure safe delivery methods. We ask that you please donate financially instead. Financial donations allow us to purchase exactly what participants need when it is needed.

The Mission Store is readily accessible on foot by most Unity Project participants and provides us (and other charities) with vouchers for our participants to shop freely for clothing and household items of their choice. They are well set up to receive and process donations and for your convenience, they also have a recycling program (so you can bring your single socks and other items to keep out of landfill).

Check our website and social media and that of other charities for updates on in-kind giving, including Life-Spin (The Free Store), Mission Services of London, My Sister’s Place, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, the Ark Aid Street Mission, and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

While we respect and admire your desire to educate yourself about homelessness and become an advocate, the short answer to this is no. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and have already been restricting our interactions with the ‘outside world’, in order to keep our participants and staff safe.

Second, we respect our participants’ rights to privacy and Unity Project’s commitment to Housing First. Further, when we engage with our participants, we do so with a specific intent: to help them find stable housing and then offer them supports to maintain wellness. An interview does not serve this purpose. Many participants would be unwilling to do so as part of a project.

Finally, while interviews can be effective ways for a researcher to acquire information, the availability of the study and recordings would be difficult to guarantee to a willing participant, as they might not have access to the internet, digital devices or a means to contact you with concerns or objections.

Give It UP!

Make a one-time gift, become a monthly donor, sponsor an event or give securities… There are many ways for you to help provide relief of homelessness.