How can the right to housing equip local governments to end homelessness?

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 – How can the right to housing equip local governments to end homelessness? – are Rebecca Alty, Mayor of Yellowknife, NWT; Ana Bailão, Ward 9 Councillor and Deputy Mayor for the south area of the city, Toronto, ON; Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria, BC; Scott McKeen, Ward 6 Councillor, Edmonton, AB; and Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener, ON.

5 Key

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

1. Municipalities are taking the lead

Prior to COVID-19, Canadian municipalities had already begun to tackle the dual challenges of homelessness and affordable housing. Today, as COVID-19 forces a greater number of Canadians onto the streets, many municipalities are doubling their efforts and finding innovative ways to house these vulnerable populations. Addressing the issue of homelessness has become integral to the fight against COVID-19, invoking the language of human rights across Canada and proving the necessity of collaboration across jurisdictions.

2. Protecting the right to home is the responsibility of all governments and sectors

While municipalities have made significant strides, there are limits to what they can accomplish on their own. Through collaborations with the federal and provincial/territorial governments, housing must become both more affordable and more plentiful. The non-profit and private sectors also have roles to play in ensuring the provision of affordable housing, as the public sector alone cannot keep up with growing demand.

3. It is time to shift from ad hoc plans to long-term housing solutions

Since the onset of COVID-19, many municipalities across Canada have forged ahead with new and innovative means of securing temporary housing for homeless populations. In some cases, cities have urgently procured hotels and motels to enable social distancing amongst people experiencing homelessness, or have renovated distressed buildings into social housing. Toronto, for example, reports housing 1300 people thus far during the pandemic. However, many cities have seen significant increases in homeless encampments as many shelters remain at capacity and people seek alternatives. As hotels re-open and hockey arenas reclaim their spaces, there is an urgent need to develop long-term viable housing strategies as we move into Canada’s socioeconomic recovery.

4. There is no one-size-fits-all approach

There are many reasons why individuals find themselves without a home – no story or experience is the same. As a result, the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness vary widely (despite the shared struggle to access housing). Efforts to address housing and homelessness must therefore be built in recognition of this diversity of needs. Among the examples mentioned by the panel, Ambrose Place in Edmonton serves one example of how supportive housing can be tailored to both people and place.

5. Recognizing the intersections between housing and health is essential

One cannot meaningfully address homelessness without also recognizing the intersectional nature of this issue. Homelessness is intrinsically tied to both physical and mental health. It is for this reason that Ambrose Place, and others like it, continue to provide their residents with a variety of additional supports that move beyond the simple provision of housing. Among the players that need to come to the table, ministries of health within all Canadian provinces are critical partners.