How Does Our Approach to Housing and Homelessness Change?

Featuring Leilani Farha, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing; Margaret Pfoh, CEO, Aboriginal Housing Management Association; Tim Richter, CEO, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness; and John van Nostrand, CEO, Parcel Developments

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Housing is a human right

With stay at home orders being implemented in cities of all sizes, it has become apparent that housing is the front-line of defense against COVID-19. Over the last 30 years, we have lost sight of every person’s right to adequate and safe shelter, and have instead allowed housing to become a commodity that can be traded for profit. The resulting loss of the social value of housing has laid bare the dire public health consequences, with thousands of Canadians, unable to simply “shelter in place”

2. Housing advocacy is the next profession

A holistic, 360-degree view of Canada’s housing crises and the relatively recent “explosion” of “modern, mass homelessness” is required to fix this fundamental human right. We have to look at housing and homelessness in its entirety, and not fixate on the built form as the only solution. A multi-pronged approach that incorporates a variety of social, political and architectural actions is required to address the complexities inherent in finding a long-term solution. One panelist suggested we may need to create a new professional category: housing advocate.

3. What’s the difference between ventilators and housing? Nothing!

A collaborative response that transcends jurisdictions is required to take immediate action on homelessness and housing. The federal government stepped into the provincial domain of health when it was most needed, to source and distribute ventilators. And the same heroics are needed for solving the housing crises – which is currently in the provincial domain. All (jurisdictional) hands on deck!

4. No going back

COVID-19 exposed existing deficiencies and structural inequities in urban and social infrastructure. Yes, we need an effective emergency response to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. But we cannot risk going back to the way things were – with too many people living homeless, underhoused, home-precarious or dispossessed.  The housing crises is the result of systemic policy decisions and directives, from all levels of government. And it has shaken the underpinnings of the very foundation of otherwise, resilient communities. It’s time for all jurisdictions to work together, but this time with front line workers and those with lived experience to address this gaping vulnerability, once and for all.

5. Just do it

We all know that cities are dealing with layers upon layers of human tragedy: the opioid crises, homelessness and domestic violence. And the list goes on, and sadly, continues to build.  And they all tie back to housing precarity. Enough is enough. The COVID-19 crises has shown us that we can overcome extraordinary obstacles quickly, and effectively. We must be “brave and fearless” in our collective commitment to solving the housing crises that affects every city in Canada. In a reference to Tracy Chapman, one panelist suggested that we might be “talkin’ bout a revolution” — where governments are pushed, and the people and the non-profits are empowered.

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