Can we end homelessness?
What do we mean when we say we can end homelessness? Is it even possible? This claim is often disputed by those who say some level of homelessness has always been with us. Yet when making this assertion, it does not mean that there will never be people in crisis who need emergency/temporary housing. There will continue to be people who must leave home because of family conflict and violence, eviction or other emergencies, as well as those who simply face challenges in making the transition to independent living. Thus, there will always be a need for some form of emergency services.
Ending homelessness means something different – it means eliminating a broad social problem that traps people in an ongoing state of homelessness. The Canadian Definition of Homelessness argues the “problem of homelessness and housing exclusion refers to the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and support are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing. The goal of ending homelessness is to ensure housing stability, which means people have a fixed address and housing that is appropriate (affordable, safe, adequately maintained, accessible and suitable in size), and includes required services as needed (supportive), in addition to income and supports”.
Ending homelessness means doing things differently, and not simply managing the problem through emergency services and supports such as shelters and soup kitchens. When people come to depend on emergency services without access to permanent housing and necessary supports, this leads to declining health and well-being, and most certainly an uncertain future. An alternative is to look at approaches that emphasize prevention and/or interventions that lead to appropriate housing options with supports. Ending homelessness means that no one should be in this emergency situation for any longer than a few weeks.
The development of plans to end homelessness challenges governments and communities to look at ending the problem of homelessness, rather than just managing it. Beginning in 2000 with the work of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the US, these action plans are now being developed in a large number of cities and provinces across Canada. The planning process helps develop a common vision with specific strategies and activities, measurable outcomes, performance indicators and a timeline. These plans identify the actions and strategies that must be taken by government, service providers, the community (agencies and individuals) and businesses in order to end homelessness in a specific community. Action plans build in a timeline to address the issue (for instance, a 'five year' or 'ten year’ plan).
They include a series of concrete steps that focus on prevention and means of reducing the number of people in need of emergency services. According to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness there are four key elements of these plans including outcomes-based planning measures, prevention activities, initiatives to address chronic homelessness (e.g. Housing First) and the development of robust infrastructure including affordable housing, income initiatives and community support services. Refer to our Plans to End Homelessness section for more information.