Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
~ George Santayana (1905)

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.
~ Audre Lorde (1984)

I know in my core celebrating Black History and the work we do around housing and homelessness is related. I’m not a historian, nor an expert on either topic (I have white skin and stable housing privilege), and I don’t necessarily have the documentation to back up my assertions, but a few things come to mind when I consider drawing the links between the two:

Political Power – Housing networks (like RENT in Toronto) and movements around housing and poverty (like OCAP and the now defunct TDRC) wouldn’t exist without the Civil Rights movement. Without it, and the work of Black freedom fighters, many of us wouldn’t be enfranchised which allows us to (presumably) have a say in our political system. Without it, and the work of Black feminists, such as Audre Lorde, many of us wouldn’t have anti-oppression frameworks to understand the links between systems of racialised oppression and systems of poverty. And without it, or the Racial Discrimination Act of 1944, many of us wouldn’t have the jobs we have today. Every movement and every fight for social justice starts with the ones that came before it; acknowledging our roots is important.

People with their hands in a puddle of water

Housing Segregation – A strategy of any oppressive system is to isolate, segregate, and ignore. The history of racialised segregation in Canada and the United States is complicated and complex, but a common theme for many groups is housing.  Although we are working towards eradicating segregation and there are no laws that specifically enforce it, if we look closely at Dr. David Hulchanski’s research, “Three Cities Within Toronto,” and the research of Punam Khosla, “If Low Income Women of Colour Counted in Toronto,” one might argue racial segregation in housing continues. Issues of housing have never existed in a vacuum; remembering our history is important.

History Continues – The work we do, who does it, and who we do it for, all remain central factors in the movements for safe and affordable housing.  Even if our work isn’t acknowledged with pomp and circumstance, the Homeless Hub and our individual agencies understand how essential our efforts are as we continue to create history and the world we want to leave behind for others. The work we continue to do is important.

Black History Month is an important time in my calendar. It gives me pause to celebrate the work of those who came before me, to reflect on both larger and smaller strategies for positive change, and to recognise how many human rights continue to be dismissed in the guise of ‘progress.’

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.

Photo by Elvin W.