Downtown Street Outreach Work and Job Café Take Shape

Good Work News, March 2005

In the summer of 2002, a community building process called the Kitchener Downtown Community Collaborative took shape. Over 40 organizations, businesses, neighbourhood groups and government workers have participated in developing ways to improve the Kitchener downtown through new approaches.

New approaches would find ways to build community and develop supports to make the downtown a better place. New projects would have a consistent philosophy:

  • Integrating individual initiative, mutual co-operation and self-help into any proposal
  • Developing a high level of volunteer content within all the initiatives. This mobilizes all sorts of people to become involved in the downtown in a positive way.
  • Developing a spirit of commitment to the downtown and its street people.

A core group consisting of the Kitchener Downtown Business Association (KDBA), City of Kitchener, The Working Centre and Kitchener Housing Inc. have provided direction and cohesion to launch the Downtown Street Outreach Worker and Job Café as interrelated projects that have provided tangible benefits to the local population.

Downtown Street Outreach Worker

In the first year and half the Downtown Street Outreach Worker has focused on monitoring the activity in the Kitchener downtown including new arrivals, building rapport with individuals in need of services; working with individuals on behaviour management; de-escalating situations to reduce police calls, making referrals for primary care and substance abuse and mental health treatment; and providing housing assistance. Referrals can be successful when they are immediate and accurate.

In the first 7 months the following supports were offered:


Bus tickets for work/OOTC/Waterloo/Cambridge: 70
General support/referrals: 190
Housing supports: 83
Mental Health supports: 21
Medical supports: 32
OW/ODSP support: 36
Addiction response or support: 53
Trespassing/panhandling response or support: 45
Youth Issues: 14
Total: 545


In addition hundreds of pairs of socks, winter boots, work boots, gloves and winter coats have been distributed.

This past spring at a recent Community Partners Recognition Breakfast given by the Community Resources Branch of the Waterloo Regional Police Services, Constable Jen Davis reported that there has been a reduction in police calls for service in the downtown since the Outreach Program began and especially in those calls that would be considered related to social issues.

The development of the Psychiatric Outreach Project working in cooperation with the Region of Waterloo Social Service has given the Downtown Street Outreach Worker access to the services of a psychiatrist who worked on the street 2 days per week over a five month period. This project will soon resume while we continue to develop the long-term structure which will provide a significant benefit to the homeless population in Waterloo Region.

The Job Café

The Job Café provides casual labour and training opportunities for people who are not able to participate in the regular labour force and will provide practical supports through laundry, lockers and showers. Job Café participants are active in the operation of the project.

Over 140 individuals have participated in Job Café work. Many of the individuals have worked once or twice a week over this time period. Many of them would like additional work of this nature. Approximately 22% of participants are women. Up to December 2004, 30 different individuals had participated in the downtown renovation project.

The following jobs have been part of Job Café: downtown street sweeping; window washing and cleaning; telephone booth cleaning; outdoor city bench painting; special event set up; apartment cleaning including washing floors, walls and appliances; demolition of partition walls, ceilings and old flooring; trips to the dump; sorting, scavenging and de-nailing old wood; framing partition walls; installing insulation; interior and exterior painting; grass cutting and weed removal; and assistance with household moving, furniture moving and office moving.

Some Stories

Jeff is a young man in his 30’s who has spent most of his adult life living on the street. About eight months ago, Jeff located and moved into an apartment with assistance from the Downtown Street Outreach Worker. Jeff was identified as someone who was interested in finding work. Jeff agreed to a couple of temporary jobs, arranged by the Job Café. During three days of temporary work, this individual demonstrated a great desire to work and was offered full time work.

Albert was unemployed and attending St John’s Kitchen for a hot meal once a day. He accepted the offer of a few days work through the Job Café, working on the renovations of the apartments at 66 Queen. Albert did some painting and work on the floors. Through the connection to the Job Café and The Working Centre, he learned of a job at a local factory. Albert applied and was accepted for a position.

Donna is a single women living on welfare as she upgrades her education. She has regularly volunteered at St John’s Kitchen. Donna has participated in many different work projects through the Job Café. With encouragement from counsellors at The Working Centre and Job Café, Donna applied for a number of part time jobs and was granted an interview. Although she did not get the first couple of jobs eventually she was offered a regular 20 hour a week position which she combines with upgrading courses and housekeeping jobs for seniors.

Brent continues to be involved in Job Café work and has demonstrated new skills in helping others. As a result of a relationship developed with Job Café staff, he was able to help a 67 year old man get off the street. He found a room and arranged for this person to move in immediately even though he had no money for rent. Brent has reported feeling less depressed and more motivated about his life. This has encouraged him to take an additional weekly household task in the room house he lives in.


The Job Café in its second year of operation continues to welcome and encourage individuals most marginalized from the labour market to the possibility of earning extra income and opening new doors. The Job Café has provided not only jobs, but examples of people looking out for and helping each other to accomplish the job at hand. We hope to continue building on this work.

Subscribe to Job Postings Feed Subscribe to For Job Searchers Feed Subscribe to The Working Centre Feed Subscribe to Commons Studio Feed