Homeless to Housing: Hands on cooking support helps

Homeless to Housing: Hands on Cooking Support Helps
Dietitian Natasha Osmond speaks with Housing First program participants.

Can you imagine living in a home for the first time in years and cooking in your very first kitchen?  It would be exciting, but a bit daunting if you had not had a chance to develop cooking skills.

Natasha Osmond, a primary care dietitian, partnered with the Housing First program in Sydney, Cape Breton, to offer free, hands-on cooking classes for homeless men who have recently moved into their own space.

The idea of the partnership came to life when Housing First instructors heard from participants that they did not feel confident in their cooking skills or knowledge in the kitchen. For many, this was their first time having their own kitchen. To ease the transition, Osmond put together a hands-on cooking program for participants to learn how to prepare and cook a variety of low cost, healthy recipes. By cooking together, the men had fun and felt more confident to then cook at home on their own.

“As a health care provider, this was a rewarding experience because we were able to cook healthy, low cost meals together,” said Osmond. “I believe this hands-on approach is more beneficial than if I simply gave them the information and recipes to try on their own.”

“A program like this puts the rubber to the pavement and says let’s do this together.”

The program was kept small to ensure a personalized experience. A Housing First instructor accompanied the participants to the grocery store to learn more about shopping on a tight budget.

Participants then went to the community-based kitchen where they met with Osmond. After going over the recipes, they put the groceries away, reviewed safe food storage techniques, and then cleaned the kitchen to get it ready for cooking.

In one session, the men learned how to make six different recipes using homemade meat sauce, including Italian one-pot, pita bread pizza, chili, taco salad, and a Mexican shepherd’s pie.  Each participant went home with all six meals packed in containers — the first addition to their new kitchens.

The program received positive responses and praise from both Housing First staff and the participants themselves.

Gerry Marsh, outreach worker with Housing First, said, “this program was everything we hoped it would be. The hands-on skills were so valuable to these men. They not only learned cooking skills with nutritious foods, they also gained self-esteem and an opportunity to socialize in a safe environment.”

For the men, the program provided them with skills to live healthy within their communities in a safe and non-judgmental environment. They quickly discovered that healthy eating isn’t as challenging as they once thought.

“Natasha made me feel comfortable, and because of that, I was able to learn so much from her,” said a participant. “I surprised myself with what I can do.”

With funding, the Housing First program hopes to transform this pilot program into an ongoing resource for people transitioning from homelessness to housing.

“It was an opportunity to bring the program to where people are and empower them with skills they need to look after themselves,” NSHA primary care health services manager Kim Bartholomew-Pushie said.

For more information on this program, please contact Natasha Osmond or Kim Bartholomew-Pushie.