September 13, 2013
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at email@example.com, contact us through Facebook or even Tweet us your questions and we will provide a research-based answer.
Last week we received this question via Twitter :
Thanks for a great question. Multiple answers come to mind.
- Sometimes they DO listen. The Province of Alberta is miles ahead of every other government in Canada in terms of showing strong leadership and commitment to end homelessness. In 2009, they became the very first province/territory in the country to actually pledge to end homelessness. For three years their work was overseen by the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness which released a 3 year progress report card in 2012 on the goal of ending homelessness. In early 2013, the Secretariat was replaced by the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness. This council brings together several different arms of government, as well as other stakeholders, to ensure that there is a systems-wide response and commitment to the plan. There are seven cities in the province — Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Wood Buffalo, Red Deer and Grand Prairie — who have developed multi-year plans to end homelessness. Alberta also has a strategy to reduce child poverty.
- The NIMBY syndrome — Not In My Backyard — is a huge problem in getting governments onside. Many politicians tend to listen to those people who a) have power and b) have money. As a result, home owners and neighbourhood associations often hold more sway than tenant groups and homeless advocates. Affordability and Choice Today has a great powerpoint presentation “Housing in My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY.” While it’s geared towards politicians and municipal staff and politicians it can help anyone learn about overcoming NIMBYism. In a research report, “The Homeless Crisis in Canada: If Not in My Backyard, Then Whose? Overcoming Community Opposition to Homelessness Sheltering Projects Through the Use of Conflict Theory” Jeannine E. Wynne-Edwards looks at a variety of case studies to understand the roots of NIMBY opposition and suggests recommendations for countering it. Even governmental agencies have developed anti-NIMBY work. “Gaining Community Acceptance of Affordable Housing Projects and Homeless Shelters” is a report on workshops developed through a partnership between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and and the Housing and Homelessness Branch of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) to work with communities in addressing NIMBYism.
- Political advocacy is multi-layered process. You have to make the right case, to the right people, at the right time. Using a variety of different techniques and tools often has the greatest impact. It isn’t an easy battle but it is winnable. It is possible to end, or at least extremely reduce, homelessness in Canada.
- Telling personal stories can have a huge impact. The Dream Team, a group of mental health survivors who advocate for supportive housing, have used videos, post card campaigns and lawsuits to challenge both NIMBYism and to call for more supportive housing. By telling their stories — see Philip and Linda sharing their stories — they help educate the public and government alike about the importance of supportive housing and how it helped get them off the streets.
- Write, email or call your politician. Since so many people don’t speak up your voice has power. You can find contact info for MPs here. Don’t forget, no postage is required to send a letter to your federal Member of Parliament. Ask them where they stand on the issue and what they plan to do to end homelessness.
- Build an alliance of like-minded people to share a similar message. Many cities — like Greater Victoria and Ottawa — already have coalitions to end homelessness or similar groups that are active and engaged. Join their mailing lists or volunteer with one of these groups to learn more.
- Stay informed so that you can speak about the issue using facts and figures. Both the Homeless Hub and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness have newsletters that provide great information and resources. Share these with your colleagues, friends and family.
- Use social media to your advantage. State the facts. Clearly. Repeatedly. Politicians can get overwhelmed with the barrage of information that comes at them daily. Here at the Homeless Hub we love sharing infographics and simple facts on Facebook and Twitter to make our points. In talking to politicians here are some resources and statements you can use:
a. Homelessness costs $7 billion annually.
b. More than 30,000 people are homeless any given night. (Pick a city near to your politician’s hometown that is close to that size and say “Imagine if everyone in XX city was homeless.” (As an example, Stratford, ON; West Kelowna, BC and Moose Jaw, SK are all very close to the 30,000 mark).
c. It is much cheaper to house people than it is to keep them in shelters, hospitals or jail.
August 01, 2013
Every summer, for almost a decade now, the Conference on Ending Homelessness put together by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, DC has been a highlight for me. It has become a tradition. It reinvigorates me. It teaches me. It reminds me why we do this work – day in and day out.
There is no way to fully capture in this blog everything that was discussed at the conference. If you search the hash tag #naeh13 you can see the thread of some of the most dominant themes by some rather prolific tweeters.
In this blog, I wanted to reflect on the top three things that I took away from the conference this year – which may also be of interest to those unable to attend:
1. Success is possible.
It is inspiring to see the success of communities like New Orleans on track to end chronic homelessness. It is invigorating to see the results of the 100K Homes campaign, especially the 43 communities in the 2.5% club. It is refreshing to hear how communities like Grand Rapids and Cleveland made the necessary, but difficult, decisions to properly coordinate access into their homeless service delivery system. It is awesome to hear how organizations like UMOM in Phoenix transformed their resources to focus on serving people with higher acuity and many barriers to housing stability.
And I could go on. For anyone who feels that the job of working to end homelessness is an impossible task, take the time to look at those that are seeing success. But I should point out that each of these communities had to make tough choices to not provide business as usual. Success came from doing things differently – not doing the same things but expecting different results.
2. There is still confusion of some key concepts and terms
It is unfortunate – but an opportunity for improvement – to help people get greater clarity on several key concepts and terms: Housing First; Rapid Re-Housing; Prevention; Diversion; Acuity; Assessment; Collaboration; Case Management; Permanent Supportive Housing. For each of these, I encountered it used incorrectly on more than one occasion. If we are going to move forward collectively in the pursuit of ending homelessness, I think it will be important to all get on the same page when it comes to the concepts and terms used quite frequently. If we aren’t all on the same page, chances are we will think we are talking about the same things when we are not, or drawing upon a body of evidence and data in an incomplete or incorrect manner.
While I have addressed many of these in blogs and videos on our website, I think a consolidated glossary would probably be helpful too. I should really get on that.
3. Good data results in good decisions
The conference reinforced the importance of data many, many times. Data will only continue to become more important for decision-making as funding remains stagnant or decreases. And it is becoming more and more important for philanthropic investments.
It was encouraging to see communities like Tulsa use data so effectively for increasing the housing stock while also demonstrating social return on investment. It was excellent to see the likes of San Francisco demonstrate, through data, the relationship between the child welfare system and homelessness – and when the support intervention may work best. It was helpful to see how USICH and HUD both shared data to demonstrate where there has been effectiveness, and where improvements still need to be made.
It is a real delight to attend the Alliance conferences and learn. The next conference focuses on homeless youth and families and is being held in New Orleans in February. Stay tuned to endhomelessness.org to get more information – it is time and scarce money well invested!
Reposted with permission from OrgCode Consulting.
Iain De Jong works with OrgCode Consulting and also holds a part-time Faculty position in the Graduate Planning Programme in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. Iain has worked in senior management and held professional positions in government, non-profits and the private sector, as well as considerable frontline and supervisory work with people experiencing co-occurring complex issues in their life such as chronically homeless people, persons with compromised mental wellness, community residents experiencing economic poverty, persons involved with sex work, and individuals experiencing addictions.
July 23, 2013
The National Alliance to End Homelessness conference is happening this week in Washington and I’ve been following the hashtag #NAEH13 to see what’s new in research and homelessness. Iain de Jong (@OrgCode) posted the following: “New Orleans on track to end chronic homelessness by 2015. Huge high five! #NAEH13”
My first reaction, and my reply tweet to him, was “@OrgCode hmm. I'd be interested to see the research. lose 25% plus of your most at-risk pop'n & have hundreds of bldgs for squatters...”
But I decided to do a bit of research – I am after all a PhD student working at a pan-Canadian research network – before being too hasty. Turns out, there may be some truth to it – at least in terms of how it looks on paper. New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) has made some great strides in ending, or at least reducing, homelessness.
In a post on OneCPDResourceExchange last week entitled “SNAPS Weekly Focus Guest Blog: Working Together to End Homelessness”, Martha Kegel, Executive Director, UNITY of Greater New Orleans and Stacy Horn Koch, Director of Homeless Policy, City of New Orleans discuss the successes of the plan to end homelessness in New Orleans.
The stats about decreases in homelessness certainly present a clear picture of a dramatic increase (after Hurricane Katrina) and a dramatic decrease. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, there were 2,051 homeless people in New Orleans; two years later that number had jumped to 11,619 people. This number has been steadily declining; in 2009 it dropped to 8,725 and then to 4,903 in 2012. Currently, the number stands at 2,337 – a 47% decrease from last year.
As the chart makes it very clear; homelessness is on the decrease and in a big way, in New Orleans. Kegel and Horn Koch state that the key problem was linked to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina “Just a few years ago, New Orleans had one of the nation’s highest rates of chronic homelessness. This distressing phenomenon was largely due to the lingering effects of the Hurricane Katrina levee failures in 2005, which wiped out the city’s stock of affordable housing, shattered the health and behavioral health systems and scattered the extended family and community networks on which so many vulnerable people once relied.”
The success in reducing homelessness lies with the City of New Orleans, UNITY of Greater New Orleans and the 63 agencies who are part of the Continuum of Care. This partnership model is very much in line with what we are constantly promoting here at the Homeless Hub, the need for a “systems response” to ending homelessness. The network of agencies work together to help find solutions –systemic and individual—to homelessness in New Orleans.
This model has led to some incredible successes. Not only has total homelessness been reduced but there has also been a focus on chronic homelessness. This has decreased 85% since 2009 – from 4,579 to 633. Kegel and Horn Koch highlight this and say, “What was unimaginable only a few years ago is now within sight: New Orleans is on track to become one of the first cities to eliminate the long-term homelessness of people with disabilities, in line with the federal plan to end chronic homelessness by 2015.”
This has been noted elsewhere as well. In 2011, Community Solutions (formerly Common Ground) reported that “Despite overwhelming obstacles, New Orleans, a partner in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, now boasts the country’s highest housing placement rate for homeless adults.” This is a clear part of New Orleans’ 10 year plan to end homelessness.
In addition to using the systems approach, NOLA is also being very strategic. They recognize that with thousands of abandoned buildings it’s easy for people to stay hidden if they choose. Outreach teams for UNITY concentrate on abandoned buildings as a way of tracking where people might be living. As this article from nola.com explains the city also captured unspent grants for recovery given to developers and is using them to build housing for homeless people and to provide rent subsidies. It also explains another strategy where “The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority is making 20 of its properties available for the program, offering each to developers for 10 percent of the appraised value or $1,345, whichever is higher.” This helps ensure that unused housing is being fixed up and that people who otherwise might remain homeless are getting housed.
The resources for people who are homeless, marginally housed, living in poverty or otherwise vulnerable in New Orleans is quite extensive. A great directory has been compiled by UNITY and can be found here.
But a few counter points:
- A study of geographic origin of homeless people in Houston found that nearly 2% were from Louisiana. While the study has some methodological challenges, this is nearly double the percentage from California, the next highest state of origin.
- An article in The Stranger from Seattle, points out that New Orleans’ rate of homelessness as a percentage of the population remains high compared to elsewhere.
- The extended family living situation common in New Orleans means that there could be a large number of “hidden homeless” people: those who are doubling up with family and friends.
- The New York Times Katrina diaspora map reminds us that people were flung far and wide post hurricane. Many of those who faced challenges returning were those with low incomes and other marginalization issues.
- There were many challenges for people who owned their homes in proving home ownership and right to title because of a casual inheritance system common in New Orleans. While that legislation was modified in 2009, prior to that it resulted in many people being homeless or facing challenges in being re-housed. Post 2009, many people who were homeless because of this policy were able to return home.
- There are still about 35,000 blighted properties in New Orleans. Even the best outreach teams can’t check every home, every night to make sure no one is sleeping there.
None of this discounts the successes that New Orleans has had. The progress it has made is nothing short of remarkable. But the broad, systemic problem of homelessness persists and it is going to need concentrated effort from many sectors to end it.
This article also appears in Tanya's Toronto2NOLA's blog. You can follow Tanya on twitter @TanyaMGulliver.
June 19, 2013
Our ground-breaking new report – The State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013 – highlights the current status of homelessness in Canada. And the picture isn’t pretty. Over 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness every year; 50,000 or more are part of the hidden homeless group and are couch-surfing, doubling or tripling up with friends and family, or living in unsafe and insecure housing. Many more Canadians are facing challenges in paying their rent and meeting other basic survival needs, including food.
Produced by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, this report card summarizes current research about how many people (and who) are homeless, trends that could lead to more homelessness if not reversed, how much homelessness is costing Canadians and promising signs of hope. It also provides several recommendations to help end homelessness.
I’ve been working in the homelessness sector for nearly 20 years, and I'm super excited to be part of this research. It's time that we were able to really quantify homelessness in a meaningful way. Yet, even this report is, in a few places, only our best guess. It’s an informed, well-researched best guess, but the lack of a common definition (CHRN released its definition in 2012) around homelessness, varying methodologies for counting homeless people and a lack of funding and support for research and evaluation means we are trying to take different sets of numbers and make them all match up. And those numbers show us that homelessness is affecting more Canadians than we might realize. In fact, approximately 30,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. This breaks down to:
- 2,880 unsheltered (outside in cars, parks, on the street)
- 14,400 staying in Emergency Homelessness Shelters
- 4,464 provisionally accommodated (homeless but in hospitals, prison or interim housing)
- 7,350 staying in Violence Against Women Shelters
The research also turned up some other interesting facts. We found that for most people, homelessness is a very short, one time experience. In fact, 29% of people spend only one night in a shelter and are able to resolve their homelessness crisis on their own or with minimal supports. At the other end of the spectrum though, 4,000 to 8,000 people are chronically homeless (long term homeless) and 6,000 to 22,000 are episodically homeless (experience repeated episodes of homelessness over a lifetime). While this is less than 15% of the total homeless population in Canada they use about 50% of the emergency shelter spaces and consume the most resources (including emergency services, hospitals etc.).
We were also able to calculate an updated sense of the cost of homelessness. It’s a whopping $7.05 billion per year. When we think about how much cheaper it is to provide rent supplements, supportive and social housing – not to mention the moral issues of warehousing people in shelters – it’s really time that we started focusing on the solutions.
And there is progress on this front. Cities across the country are making strides towards reducing, and ending, homelessness. The province of Alberta is leading the way with a provincial 10 year plan to end homelessness that is showing some very promising results. A focus on Housing First – getting people off the streets and out of shelters into housing before focusing on other issues – is helping to reduce the numbers of people who are homeless.
- Vancouver has had a 66% reduction in street homelessness since 2008
- Edmonton saw a 30% reduction in overall homelessness since 2008
- Toronto reports a 51% decrease in street homelessness since 2006
- Alberta’s provincial plan has led to a 16% province-wide reduction since 2008
For the full report, including full tables, charts and our recommendations for change download the report.
Download the Executive Summary Aussi disponible en français
Download the Complete Report
Tanya Gulliver is the Project Coordinator for the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (The Homeless Hub) based at York University. She is also a PhD student at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies looking at community resiliency and recovery after catastrophic disasters. From 2003-2010, Tanya taught the Homelessness in Canadian Society course at Ryerson University. Tanya was on the management team and staff of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. She is co-founder of the Toronto Homeless Memorial.
March 26, 2013
Calgary has a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. And the Calgary Homeless Foundation has set very aggressive targets and benchmarks to reframe how our city thinks about and responds to homelessness. As a community, we have decided that it is completely inappropriate for a city of opportunity, like Calgary, to ignore the fact that we have 3,500 homeless men, women and children on our streets and in emergency shelters.
We have created 40 new programs in the last five years to move people from homelessness into housing with supports. Finding housing in our city is a key challenge – but just as critical is ensuring people have supports around them whenever they need them to keep that housing. The support piece is called case management. When working with homeless people, case management has to meet the needs of people with very complex lives and difficult histories. Case management should be person-centred, and delivered by a team of people from varying backgrounds. Open, honest communication and a non-judgemental approach are the keys to success as is ensuring people have an equal role in making decisions.
When case management is done well and people are engaged in the process, it changes lives. So far we have housed and supported 4,500 people in our housing and case management programs. Eighty to ninety percent remain in housing. These individuals are using jails and emergency rooms 54-85% less than when they were homeless and most importantly they are safe, secure and supported. We see dramatic results that cost taxpayers significantly less than ignoring the issue. We know that it can cost upwards of $100,000 per person per year to use emergency shelters, and public systems when they are homeless. Our most expensive case management program is $36,000 per person, per year. Most are around $20,000. Each person in a case management program plays an active part in paying rent and accessing supports and many move into volunteer roles, education or employment.
Case management along with safe, affordable housing is a critical part of the success of our 10 Year Plan. We are well on our way to creating a diverse and adaptable system of care that can meet and respond to this complex issue. Our ending homelessness work in Calgary is helping to build a strong community where all Calgarians can take advantage of the great things our city of opportunity has to offer.
Katrina Milaney is the Acting Vice President of Strategy for the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Katrina has been a researcher for several years engaged in numerous collaborative projects that uncover the root causes of social issues including poverty and homelessness. She has a Master’s degree in Community Health Sciences and is currently pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies.
January 31, 2013
A friend of mine, who teaches at York University, recently lamented the fact that “The students in my class, they don’t read newspapers any more”. Well, I still like to read newspapers myself, but that's not the only way I like to get information. I follow twitter, I’m on Facebook, I use Youtube for everything from watching music videos, to seeing web-based comedy, to figuring out how to do a home repair. People consume information and, perhaps more importantly, learn new things in all kinds of ways, many of them mediated through technology.
You see, the world has changed, and as a researcher and an educator focused on the issue of homelessness, I am very interested in figuring out how to help the public – as well as decision-makers in government and the community – understand that in responding to homelessness, we can do things differently, and that we must. Through our work at the Homeless Hub, we recognize that it just isn’t enough to just push out academic papers that nobody wants to read; that if we really want people to engage research, we need to think differently about how people might want to consume information, and do things differently.
This is why I was blown away when I saw the NFB’s Here At Home interactive website and video series. This site, and the many videos contained within it, is perhaps one of the richest sources of information on homelessness – and how to address it – that I have seen. Right from the opening sequence, which draws you in to the site, to the important facts and figures relating to the five research sites, to the huge number of short video subjects, this is a site that really allows you to learn about and understand homelessness. The short videos profiling those who were once homeless and who have since been housed through the project, humanizes the subject by helping us understand their lives and the fact that, well, they aren’t really that different from you and me. They want to be safe, to be warm, to have dignity, to be housed. Check out the video of Simon from Montreal, and you will see what I mean.
The videos chronicling the experiences of caseworkers and landlords are equally enlightening. It is fantastic to learn from these videos that there are landlords all over the country who are willing to support Housing First and provide homes for people who are homeless. Many of these landlords like Jim the Housing Agent in Toronto seem to get much from their involvement, besides rent. They get a strong sense of fulfillment and an opportunity to participate in contributing to solutions to a seemingly intractable problem.
The videos here are interesting and well produced. They are also short and easy to consume, which is perfect for social media. So, one can visit the site and browse through them. One can also post them on Facebook (at under five minutes, they are perfect), Tweet them. If you are a teacher or professor, these are a great resource for your students. The videos can be used in community meetings, or to show your friends or family. Content like this is really the future of communication and of learning, and the partnership between the NFB and the At Home / Chez Soi project.
So why does any of this matter? For far too long we have dealt with homelessness by warehousing people in emergency shelters or worse still, throwing them in jail. After years of working with many others to address homelessness in Canada, I just feel that things need to change. And change in a big way. But things won’t change at all if people - and I’m talking about politicians, the news media and most importantly the general public – continue to think that everything is OK, or minimally, that the current system is the best we can offer. You know, “Times are tough, and we do provide people who are homeless with shelter and soup kitchens. And really, don’t most homeless people choose to be homeless after all?”.
We need to educate people on this front. The Here At Home series will play an important role in helping people across the country better understand homelessness, through hearing people who have experienced it talk about it. More importantly, the series helps all of us learn that there are real solutions to this seemingly intractable problem, and that Housing First works! The At Home / Chez Soi project shows that even when you take the most hard core, long term case; when you provide that person with a safe and decent place to live, when you treat them with respect and give them the supports they need, they stay housed. Nobody really wants to be homeless.
So visit the site, watch a video or two, and then share it. There are solutions to homelessness!
This article was originally posted on the National Film Board’s ‘Here at Home: In Search of the Real Cost of Homelessness blog.
December 10, 2012
It wasn’t so long ago that I would lament the lack of impact of research on the homelessness crisis in Canada. You often used to hear people say, “We don’t need research – we know what the problem is and we know what the solution is.”
I used to think, well, wrong on all counts. I could understand people’s impatience with the lack of progress, but really, I couldn’t think of any other crisis – whether it be HIV/AIDS, cancer or global warming – where people would see no need for research. What made this crisis so special?
The good news is that things have begun to change in a big way in the last several years. Communities across Canada are starting to see the value of research, and many researchers finding better ways to engage with service providers, communities, government and with people who have experienced homelessness in order to conduct research that contributes to solutions.
There are in fact many clear ways in which research can make an important contribution. First, there is conceptual research. This is research that inspires shifts in how we think about, understand and talk about the problem of homelessness. Research that poses the question, ‘can we and should we do things differently?’ Here I’m thinking of Hal Pawson’s work on homelessness prevention that has been so influential around the world, or Culhane and Metraux’ work on chronic homelessness in the United States. The recent CHRN Canadan Definition of Homelessness, produced through a collaborative process involving researchers, service providers, people in government and those with lived experience, is conceptual work in that it gives us clear language about how to think about homelessness.
The second kind of research that matters is instrumental research. This is research that helps us understand the effectiveness of our responses to homelessness. In other words, we can no longer just assume we are doing the right thing; we need to better understand, what works, why it works, for whom it works and under what conditions. There is growing recognition in the homelessness sector that we need to do more work on evaluating programs, using data management systems to understand the work at the systems level, and develop robust case study analyses of policy, systems and program level responses that will allow communities to share and adapt promising practices. The At Home / Chez Soi project (funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada) is the most extensive research project on Housing First ever conducted, and is already showing amazing results. This research will help us really understand how Housing First works for different sub-populations, and in different urban and rural community contexts.
Finally, there is the symbolic use of research. That is, we can use research as evidence to help make the case for retaining what works, or what to do differently. Research can inform policy makers, practitioners, politicians and the general public about homelessness, its causes, conditions and solutions. A good example of this is the recent report: The Real Cost of Homelessness – Can we save money by doing the right thing?, which has inspired conversations across the country about the fact that while we might think that addressing homelessness through emergency services allows us to deal with this issue ‘on the cheap,' it is in fact really quite expensive, and not particularly effective.
So research does seem to matter after all. The challenge in making an impact is taking the evidence and having the learnings applied in real world situations. Communities like Calgary have become leaders in taking an evidence-based approach to solving homelessness, as has the Province of Alberta. All of this makes me optimistic that we can solve homelessness, especially if we draw from research evidence, and involve people from different sectors and walks of life working together to create solutions that treat people with dignity and give them hope.
About Stephen Gaetz
Dr. Stephen Gaetz is the Director of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and an Associate Professor, Faculty of Education at York University.
International Homelessness Research ConferenceCALL FOR PAPERS to the International Homelessness Research Conference: Advancing the Policy and Practice of Crisis Response Systems, to be held Monday, June 3 to Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More details here.
October 01, 2012
The impacts of homelessness are not only physical and emotional – they are also social. Becoming homeless has been referred to as a “social death” – one in which a person’s social identity is radically transformed from neighbour and citizen to unwanted and threatening Other. The expressions of this “Othering” pervade our society, from comedy sketches ridiculing “hobos,” to laws like Ontario’s Safe Streets Act that make certain actions punishable only if performed by a person who appears to be homeless. What the comedians and legislators have in common in these examples is that they depict people facing homelessness as having less dignity, fewer rights, and less inherent worth than “ordinary” people – in short, as less than human. Just as importantly, such depictions influence how self-identified “ordinary” people see and respond to people they believe to be homeless.
Antipoverty activist Jean Swanson coined the term “poor-bashing” to name the attitudes, behaviours and policies that diminish the humanity of poor people. In a report co-authored with Wendy Pederson, she elaborates:
“Poor bashing is when people who are poor are discriminated against, stereotyped, humiliated, despised, pitied, patronized, ignored, blamed, and / or falsely accused of being lazy, drunk, stupid, uneducated and not wanting to work.”
For women facing homelessness, poor-bashing and discriminatory attitudes towards homeless people are further compounded by marginalization on the basis of gender, race, Aboriginal identity, age, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation and other factors. The result is a profound denial of fundamental human rights – which women facing homelessness in Canada brought to the attention of the United Nations in 2006.
Front-line services aim to address the effects of poverty and homelessness: they provide food, a place to sleep, emotional support, and resources. But being treated as less than human is as much an impact of homelessness as being dehoused and hungry. Services can help address the social impacts of homelessness by creating environments of mutual respect in which women’s human rights are recognized and restored.
Since 2010, I have been leading a study to look at how, exactly, services can create such environments – and today, the final report is released on Homeless Hub. The study was funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Homeless Knowledge Development Program, with a mandate to identify, analyze and disseminate promising practices in homelessness services. Members of this research-action project didn’t just talk the talk, we walked the walk, striving to implement the good practices we were learning about. The project was based on feminist participatory action research methods, with a research team and advisory committee in which women facing homelessness, academic researchers, service providers, and self-advocacy groups worked side-by-side.
We agreed to focus on service practices that:
- directly involve women facing homelessness in designing and delivering policies and programs;
- promote women’s strengths, skills, self-reliance, and mutual support; and
- reflect and respond to diverse needs, identities and experiences.
We believed that such practices would be key in shaping service environments where women’s rights are promoted.
Unfortunately, as we heard in this project (and as I have witnessed first-hand in the past as a front-line worker), not all services uphold women’s basic rights of autonomy, dignity and self-determination. One focus group participant put it very eloquently:
“Canada ends at the doorstep of the shelters. When you’re outside, it’s Canada. When you go in, it isn’t. When I go in the door I know I’ve left Canada behind. When I say Canada, I mean everything – the values, the principles, what they stand for, everything.”
But the good news is, many front-line services are finding innovative ways to include women facing homelessness in service design, delivery, governance and evaluation; to build on women’s strengths through peer service models; and to promote women’s leadership and civic engagement. There are inspiring models outside the homelessness sector, too, that can be borrowed and built upon. Most importantly, women’s own responses to homelessness have much to teach organizations. Our report not only describes some of these great examples, it also identifies the day-to-day practices that are necessary to their success.
Making services better won’t end homelessness. The root causes of women’s homelessness— unaffordable housing, insufficient incomes, inadequate services, discrimination, and violence—must be addressed by changes to economic and social policies at the federal and provincial levels. But while we continue to advocate for changes at the systemic level, women facing homelessness and service providers can also work towards changes closer to “home”: in our organizations, and in our relationships with each other.
As this report demonstrates, these changes are already taking place among women and organizations all across Canada. The promising practices described here are at once visionary and practical, inspirational and instructive, infinitely adaptable and locally-specific. We hope that readers will take freely from these ideas and try them out. Working together, front-line services and women facing homelessness can build organizations that will challenge not only the social impacts of homelessness, but its root causes as well.
Download the Full Report
September 10, 2012
What is in a definition? Leading policy makers, service providers and researchers from across the country have long lamented the fact that Canada has no national definition of homelessness. The feeling has been that there is a need for an agreed upon definition of homelessness in order to provide all levels of government and community groups with a framework for understanding and describing homelessness, and a means of identifying goals, strategies and interventions, as well as measuring outcomes and progress.
This week, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network at York University officially launches the Canadian Definition of Homelessness. This definition, created through a collaborative community process, has now been endorsed by communities, researchers and governments across the country.
You might think, “What’s the big deal? Do we really need a definition? Isn’t it obvious what homelessness is? Well, at a certain level, I think we can all agree that people sleeping in parks or under bridges are homeless. However, you don’t have to move too far beyond that for things to get complicated. Is a young person who is sleeping on a friend’s couch because they were kicked out of their home, ‘homeless’? Is someone who is staying in a mental health facility, but who has no home to go to upon release homeless? These are important issues for policy makers and practitioners. In fact, the breadth and complexity of the issues underlying homelessness create a sense that the issue is unbounded, and difficult to get a handle on, particularly because many people suffer from similar individual and structural problems, but never become homeless. This can also create the ‘illusion’ that it is therefore difficult to solve.
A case can be made that addressing any complex problem cannot be done without first having a thorough understanding of the nature and extent of the problem. After all, you cannot measure the scope of the problem without first knowing who is and is not affected. This notion is precisely the challenge that faces all strategic initiatives aimed at addressing homelessness, and our lack of clarity about what counts and what does not gets in the way of creating comprehensive strategies to address homelessness, evaluate outcomes and progress, and share effective practices.
Check out the Canadian Definition of Homelessness. Click here and you will find:
- The Canadian Definition of Homelessness in both official languages;
- A one-pager that includes an easy to use table;
- “Making the case for the Canadian Definition of Homelessness”, which presents the utility of the definition; and
- A background document that brings together the Canadian and international research on definitions of homelessness.
On this page, you will see a list of the many national, regional and local organizations that have officially endorsed the definition.
Finally, Canada joins other jurisdictions, including the United States, the European Union, and Australia in having a national definition to assist in developing effective solutions to homelessness.
April 11, 2012
There’s a new national player in the struggle to end homelessness in Canada. The new Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness was launched last week, and promises to be an effective champion for ending homelessness in Canada by mobilizing communities and governments across the country to develop and implement their own 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness. Check out their newly released “A Plan Not a Dream”, a document that outlines the Ten Year Plan approach.
“We will seek to make progress one community at a time, building on the proven success of communities like Calgary.” says Tim Richter, who will head up this effort. The CAEH will also play a strong role in ensuring that all levels of government in Canada do their part in supporting communities, including through investment in affordable housing.
Why do I like this new Alliance? First, the focus is on supporting communities, municipalities and provincial and national governments to develop strategic and coordinated responses to homelessness. I have long argued that we need to move away from a response that simply provides emergency services such as shelters and drop-ins. In many, if not most communities, the provision of emergency services means that homelessness is addressed through a fragmented patchwork of such services, often with a heavy dose of law enforcement (we have to acknowledge that the criminalization of homelessness IS unfortunately part of our national strategy to address homelessness).
The Ten Year Plan model, first pioneered in the United States, but successfully adapted in many Canadian cities, has shown that we can shift this focus, not only though strategic coordination, but also by emphasizing prevention and rapid rehousing (it should be noted that Housing First is a central strategy of the Ten Year Plan model). This means retooling the emergency sector to ensure that people don’t languish in shelters for years. The Ten Year Plan model has been proven effective, and Tim Richter will bring his experience from the highly successful model in Calgary to the national stage.
A second strong feature of the approach advocated by the CAEH is the foundational belief that research and data collection must be part of the solution. For too long in Canada, we have said: “We don’t need research to solve homelessness; we know what the problem is, and we know what the solution is”. Wrong! This kind of thinking has actually gotten in the way. In communities that have successfully addressed homelessness, research has been used to address instrumental concerns (does Housing First work?), pose conceptual challenges (How can we shift the focus to prevention), implement program evaluation, and as a means of supporting systems-based responses through data management (such as the highly successful HMIS system). Research DOES matter.
Now some people may question whether we need yet another national entity for addressing homelessness. Won’t this just increase competition and dilute the effort? In fact, the CAEH and other important national voices such as the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, Raising the Roof, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Wellesley Institute and Eva’s Initiatives, as well as many other significant local groups have already signaled not only their intent, but their active commitment to working collaboratively in a way that enhances the work of everyone.
Others may question whether there is much to be learned from a model that originated in the United States, or whether the Alberta experience is transferable to the rest of Canada. Well, on that front, we need to get over ourselves! We need to identify the best ideas; figure out what works; and adapt these practices to new contexts. I don’t care where an idea comes from. If it’s a good idea and it is proven effective, I’ll take it.