Math Radfar knows what it is like not to have a place to call home.
“I had to escape from Iran with my family,” says Math, whose activities as a labour activist drew the attention of authorities and led to him being jailed multiple times. Fleeing to Turkey on horseback, he and his wife spent a year there as refugees before coming to Canada.
Here, he found his personal experiences translated into empathy well suited for working with society’s neediest people. For 10 years, he’s been a support worker at Toronto’s Mainstay Housing, the largest non-profit provider of supportive housing in Ontario for mental health survivors.
“I think that's given me a foundation to be very comfortable working with people who are marginalized, people who are unfortunate or poor,” Math says. “I think that was a good foundation for me and here I am getting paid even.”
Math also serves as an unconditional, non-judgmental friend, from checking on clients’ wellbeing to being their good listener over lunch.
Working one-on-one with his clients, Math offers daily support as they adjust to being housed. Homeless for years sometimes decades, he helps his clients get the basics that most people take for granted: ID, a family doctor and government benefits to which they’re entitled.
Mainstay Housing is on the shortlist for the Ontario Government’s Social Impact Bond pilot project. If successful the SIB would fund a seven year, $5-million program to help 100 chronically homeless people off the street.
For men like John Carty, Math’s client, who lived on the street for more than 15 years and suffers from depression, schizophrenia and addiction. the transition from street to home is not easy or quick. Another client took three years to stop sleeping on the balcony of his new apartment.
Math recalls when he first started working with John:
Math believes John has high potential to succeed in the program. He takes responsibility, wants to resolve his problems, and has agreed to see a psychiatrist.
“This is a good future I could say. That gives you hope,” says Math. “I mean that's a good thing about him that he admits that he needs it, and he wants to. But how much, it depends on the day.”
Whatever Math can do to build his connection with John, he does.
In this video clip, Math is on his way to their regular lunch meeting:
Math knows the stakes are high for his clients to succeed, potentially the difference between life or death.
“It is tough on the street. Quality of life is very poor, very fragile. Life expectancy is very short. You don't, you don't see lots of elderly homeless out there.”