Restorative Justice Housing Ontario (RJHO.ca) Enrico, a resident in a Restorative Justice Housing Ontario’s (RJHO’s) home, was born in Canada but his family moved to Mexico when he was still a young child, then ultimately to the United States where was convicted of a serious drug offence. At the conclusion of his sentence, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) insisted that he leave the country on his release.His sister in Pennsylvania learned about Restorative Justice Housing and contacted the director of Operations, Joseph Lauren. After a negotiation between ICE and Immigration Canada, Enrico was turned over to Canadian officials at the Windsor border and after a two-week quarantine he and moved into an RJHO home in south Etobicoke.
RJHO provides homes or apartments where former inmates live together. The residents take collective responsibility for shared activities such as meal preparation, clean up, shopping or yard work and being good neighbours. Since coming “home” to Canada, Enrico has worked as a movie-extra and volunteered at a food bank. In the home he is known for his meticulous cleaning habits and preparing Latin-flavoured meals for all to enjoy. He has joined a nearby catholic parish, (open with limits on attendance) and goes to church regularly and he has found time to help homeless people. His main contributions, however, are his social skills. He is an active listener with a great laugh making him a good audience. When it is his turn, he is an entertaining storyteller. Restorative Justice is “baked into” RJHO’s name.
A central idea of Restorative Justice is that a community is damaged when a crime is committed, and reparations of some form are needed. RJHO provides a way for residents to repair the harm, if not directly, then at least in a form that makes the community more pleasant and feel more secure. For example, one resident works as a Covid-19 contact-tracer, another shovels the neighbour’s snow, puts out and brings in their garbage pails. The home’s first resident transformed a weed-infested yard into a flower-bordered lawn. Collectively, their work makes the community more attractive socially and visually and addresses food insecurity in a positive way.
RJHO operates on a rent-geared-to-income basis. This means that residents who are on some form of government support, who are working part-time or at minimum wage are charged a rent that leaves them something to live on. The most common result of this approach is that RJHO has to “top up” the rent paid by the residents to meet the monthly lease payments. Rosedale United’s support enables this rental policy to work for both the residents and RJHO. Moreover, thanks, in part, to the support of Rosedale United Church RJHO has been able to add a new residence in South Etobicoke and to increase the number of accommodation spaces to 11. In coming months RJHO hopes to open a facility for women. The support makes a huge difference to Enrico and many others with stories of lives that have not been lived in straight lines but that they are now trying to straighten out.