"Ending Homelessness in Canada" | Book Launch

Housing has become a major policy issue at all levels of government, and yet more Canadians than ever lack a home. Recognizing adequate housing is not just one policy, but a kaleidoscope of challenges, personal identities and human needs. Housing crisis is rising in Canada, and the paradigm shift from “treating” homelessness, to preventing it and creating a right to housing is something discussed in the new book Ending Homelessness in Canada, co-authored by professor Pearl Eliadis. The book contributors involved in working to end homelessness addressed the key factors producing homelessness and described a wide range of innovative measures at the book’s launch on April 29, 2024. 

Art Campbell is the former regional director of Reintegration and Social Inclusion for YMCA Quebec. Statistics reveal that 22% of individuals within the prison system are identified as being at risk of homelessness upon their release - “Our judicial and provincial prison system are perpetuating homelessness.” Every year, the Montreal detention center releases approximately 1,700 individuals who are likely to face homelessness upon liberation. Access to essential health and mental health services within prisons is severely lacking, exacerbating the cycle of marginalization. However, there is hope on the horizon, the Minister of Health has pledged to improve basic services within the prison system. Efforts are also underway to transform the approach to sentencing and correction, with plans to convert sentences of less than six months into community sentences - currently representing 71% of all current cases in Quebec. Additionally, there is a focus on equipping correctional staff with the necessary training to effectively identify and support those at risk. 

Cécile Arbaud is the executive director of Dans la Rue, a Montreal organization dedicated to assisting youth experiencing homelessness. Her chapter delves into youth homelessness, which she feels requires a distinct strategy. Unlike adult homelessness, which often stems from various factors later in life, youth homelessness typically arises from challenges within the family or youth protection systems. 40% of youth experience homelessness before the age of 16, “often accompanied by trauma and involvement with child protection services” Cécile shared. Consequently, preventing youth homelessness demands a multifaceted, upstream approach that addresses root causes comprehensively. In Canada, it's troubling to note that 50% of homeless individuals were without stable housing before the age of 5, underscoring the importance of early intervention. Current efforts to prevent youth homelessness encompass extensive research, knowledge mobilization, and collaborative projects aimed at fostering collective impact. Key initiatives include Housing First for Youth, shelter diversion programs, and efforts to reconnect youth with their families and education.  

Eric Latimer is a research scientist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University. He emphasized mental illnesses requiring a coordinated and proactive approach to preventing homelessness among individuals. Often, individuals experiencing mental health challenges may feel disconnected from reality, making it essential for them to receive appropriate care and support. There are two primary interventions to consider: ensuring that individuals discharged from hospitals are not left vulnerable to homelessness and identifying and supporting those at risk of homelessness due to factors such as hoarding disorder. Eric mentioned, “upon discharge from hospitals, individuals should be accompanied towards stable housing, considering their economic and psychosocial needs.” Implementing a Housing First approach, which prioritizes securing permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, is vital in ensuring long-term stability and well-being.  

James Hughes is the president and CEO of Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission, the largest organization in Quebec serving homeless people as well as those at risk of homelessness. He underscores that ending homelessness requires a shift towards prevention, a principle at the core of initiatives undertaken by Old Brewery in recent years. Through strategic partnerships and a focus on public policy, efforts have centered on identifying the root causes of homelessness and intervening effectively. This approach is encapsulated in the forthcoming book, which shares stories and strategies for addressing homelessness at its source. Rooted in collective hope and proactive action, the narrative emphasizes the critical role of housing as a preventative measure. Advocacy for the construction of new affordable housing stands as a cornerstone, with recognition of the government's responsibility in this regard. Central to these aspirations is the preservation and construction of three million units of affordable housing, underscoring the commitment to tangible solutions that can transform lives and communities. 

Marie McGregor Pitawanakwat works within the Women’s National Housing & Homelessness Network. She shared her lived experiences with the audience, emphasizing the added layers of trauma affecting Indigenous homelessness due to colonial past. “The provision of housing and shelter are examples of agency, independence and self-sufficiency,” writes Marie. She advocated for establishing oneself on ancestral indigenous territory and working the land to provide shelter and protection for oneself as it’s a spiritual gift. Marie looks forward, staying a hopeful supporter of the land-back movement for reclamation of native land to in turn fight homelessness. 

Pearl Eliadis is a human rights lawyer, associate professor (professional) at McGill University, and past president of the Shield of Athena Family Services, which works with women and children who are victims of violence. The complexity of housing issues is evident in the diverse challenges faced by different sectors of society, each with its unique typologies and root causes. Among these complexities, the gender aspect stands out, particularly concerning racialized women who often face distinct forms of discrimination and violence. Pearl mentions, “addressing homelessness among women requires a nuanced approach that recognizes the intersectionality of gender and race, challenging traditional narratives around violence and housing insecurity”. Prevention and upstream strategies are crucial, yet Quebec lacks comprehensive legal frameworks to address the specific needs of marginalized groups. Access to social housing remains prohibitively expensive for many women, highlighting broader systemic issues within Canada. “Central to addressing these challenges is the need to prioritize housing rights, a fundamental aspect of international law that is notably absent from both Quebec and Canadian legislation,” she highlights. By adopting a rights-based approach to housing, policymakers can begin to address the structural inequalities that perpetuate homelessness among marginalized populations, ensuring that all individuals have access to safe and affordable housing. 

Robert Byers is the president and CEO of Namerind Housing Corporation, a provider of affordable housing to the Indigenous community. He and his team have pioneered innovative solutions, such as social enterprises, to address the pressing need for affordable housing. One such initiative is the Mother-Baby Project, designed to support mothers struggling with drug addiction, thereby preventing the separation of mother and child by social services. This proactive approach has resulted in over 200 safe births, protecting vulnerable families from the cycle of homelessness and intervention by child welfare services. By investing in these individuals and families, Robert emphasizes the importance of early intervention in preventing homelessness, underscoring the necessity of continued support and innovative strategies. 

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