Homeless during a pandemic: What are the challenges and looming threats?

Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our  series about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next, as we (re)imagine the right to home – Homeless during a pandemic: What are the challenges and looming threats? are Stephanie Allen, Associate Vice-President of  Strategic Business Operations and Performance, BC Housing; Eddie Golko, Participant, Us and Them; Krista Loughton, Filmmaker, Us and Them; Karen Montgrand, Participant, Us and Them; and Tim Richter, President and CEO, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. 

5 Key

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

1.     Collaboration with lived experts is essential to developing long-term solutions

Stephanie Allen of BC Housing discussed the approaches taken to address homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the opening of emergency spaces “to [space] out people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus” and engaging with Indigenous peoples in decampment processes. Stephanie also emphasized the importance of working in collaboration with housing advocates and people with lived experience to design trauma- and culturally-informed solutions and spaces. She emphasized “the importance of hearing from people what the solutions are that they need” by saying that “we shouldn’t be doing this work without peer involvement anymore […], we know where the shoe pinches, let us design the shoes to walk in.”

2. The right to housing is fundamental

It is clear that the risks and impacts of homelessness in Canada have been deeply exacerbated by the pandemic. Tim Richter highlighted the need to approach the right to housing as “a significant investment” rather than a stop-gap measure. He, too, identified the importance of working alongside those with lived experience in addressing the crisis, and amplifying their voices wherever possible.

3.     For people experiencing homelessness, staying connected with family and friends is both valuable and, at times, challenging

Us and Them film participants Eddie Golko and Karen Montgrand discussed the value of relationships with families and friends for those experiencing homelessness. Karen Montgrand stated that she frequently communicates with her friends who are homeless, offering them assistance and safe places to stay when possible. Eddie Golko discussed his priority of reconnecting with his children and grandchildren: “my family means a lot. I’ve got kids, grandkids, and I’m trying to open up a pathway, you know, to see them.”

4.     Art can be used to shed light on lived realities, but is only a starting point

Us and Them filmmaker Krista Loughton discussed the film’s role in helping audiences grasp the complex realities of living on the street: “What I was feeling when I started making Us and Them was that there was a real disconnect between the average person, [the] general population and what was actually really happening on the ground in shelters and the reality of street life.” She discussed her findings while making the film, including how childhood trauma and abuse is a major factor that contributes to chronic homelessness.

5.     An uncomfortable but necessary conversation

Addressing issues surrounding homelessness requires uncomfortable conversations about systemic change, system failures, and confronting legacies of colonialism and racism across all sectors of society, from the general public to elected officials. Tim Richter explained, “It’s challenging, it’s painful, there’s conflict, but that’s necessary conflict.” The panelists agreed that tackling the crisis of housing in Canada will require creativity, bravery, and a willingness across the board to transform the status quo.