Toronto Drop-in Network (TDIN) Good Practices Toolkit

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Org: Paul Dowling Consulting, Good Practices Workgroup, and Agora Foundation
Date: 2007

Drop-ins provide a safe and welcoming refuge for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. This Toolkit is designed to help the people who operate drop-ins be the best that they can and provide the most effective service to the community.


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This Toolkit contains the collective wisdom of the Toronto Drop-In Network (TDIN). It has practical strategies, helpful tips, and discussions that are designed to help drop-in workers develop new policies or improve their existing practices.

The Toolkit was written with the diversity of the TDIN in mind - each drop-in differs from others in terms of types of resources, staffing capacity, amount of available space, number of participants, ability to function autonomously, philosophy, mandate, and so forth. Many drop-ins face the same problems and have the same concerns, but few solutions are "one-size-fits-all." The Toolkit covers a range of strategies that correspond to the different resources and constraints of each drop-in. Some of the guidelines apply to everyone - for example, food preparation safety standards - while others need to be adapted to meet the needs of different drop-ins.

Every drop-in is dedicated to continually improving their service, and this document is intended to give the TDIN the tools to help all drop-ins work together - as individuals and as part of the Network - to become the best that they can be. This Toolkit is intended to be a "living document" that grows and changes with the Network, benefiting from the discussion that it invokes. This process should be facilitated by material organization of the Toolkit - it is contained in a binder so policies or notes can be easily inserted in the appropriate place, and the pagination restarts with each subsection so that any new insertions can be easily incorporated into the numbering.

What is a Drop-in?

Drop-ins serve socially marginalized people who are housed as well as those who are living on the streets. There has been substantial debate about the precise definition of a "drop-in." Drop-ins vary in their mandates, the services they offer, the environments they cultivate, their governance structures, the populations they serve, and the types of staff or volunteers they recruit. Each drop-in has its own philosophical approach, mission statement, and mandate that guide it in its daily operations and its development of policies.

TDIN Approach to Cultural Competence

Section 4B (pg. 166) of the Toolkit outlines the TDIN approach to working with diverse communities:

A "broadened definition of 'culture' has been adopted by drop-ins to refer to the diversity of communities they serve. It is too simple to say that all drop-in participants are 'socially marginalized,' or 'oppressed;' it is important to look at the varying ways in which they are oppressed, and how these intersect: for example, the experience of being a person of colour in Canada is not the same as the experience of poverty, and the experience of prison is not the same as the experience of being a Muslim in a post-9/11 world, although all of these experiences may be lived by the same individual."

"'Cultural competence' developed as a set of good practices and policies for working with diverse populations. It is defined by cultural competence consultants Gloria Murrant and Douglas Stewart as an approach that 'acknowledges and incorporates, at all levels, the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, vigilance toward the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally unique needs.'"

Drop-ins have different organizational cultures - and even different language is used to discuss the people they serve. It is not easy to settle on one definition that includes them all. There are some common characteristics, however, that describe this diverse group of services:

  • Responsiveness and flexibility
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Holistic approach

Their approach involves a certain amount of "intentional informality". It is this relaxed environment and respect for autonomy that participants emphasize when they define what a drop-in is. All drop-ins provide an informal social setting, respond to some basic needs, and offer some sort of programming, which can be organized into 4 clusters:

  1. Providing for basic needs
  2. Providing opportunities for social contact
  3. Providing support for well-being
  4. Providing the opportunity for change

How to Use the Toolkit

For drop-in staff, this Toolkit does not provide you with a set of rules or minimum standards, but instead offers you a way to orient yourself toward your work. The Toolkit offers "Good Practices" Versus "Best Practices" or "Minimum Standards". The author outlines a number of suggested ways you can use the Toolkit:

  • Getting practical advice and material resources. You may be selective as you use this Toolkit, and pick it up only in specific situations where you need practical advice. Each section highlights effective strategies and discusses the advantages and drawbacks to each one, while the appendices provide material resources that you can print out and use.
  • Developing your own manual. Many drop-ins are under-resourced or understaffed and have little time to develop their own policies and procedures manuals; this Toolkit is intended to facilitate this process.
  • Explaining or justifying to others what you do. In addition to basic nuts and bolts of practical suggestions, this Toolkit also offers conceptual tools - "tools to think with." It is important, not just to use a good practice, but to be able to give a rationale for why it is a good practice.
  • Training staff or volunteers. This Toolkit may be used during training or orientation sessions for new staff, volunteers, Board members, or participants joining the staff or volunteer team at the drop-in.
  • Broadening and deepening your understanding. You may also read this Toolkit straight through, from start to finish, if you are interested to discover the kinds of things the Drop-In Network is talking about, and the sorts of practices being used across the GTA to work with socially marginalized folks.
  • Networking. As well as being a useful resource for individual drop-ins, this book is also intended to serve as a common reference point for all the drop-ins in the TDIN and to be used to facilitate networking and dialogue.