Research Matters Blog

Last week I was in Whitehorse where I released a peer-reviewed policy report on poverty in Yukon. The report was part of the much larger Social Economy Research Network of Northern Canada project.

Report findings include the following:

- Ignoring poverty can be quite costly, as has been clearly demonstrated by research on the ‘costs of poverty’ done by economist Nathan Laurie and others, including PEF Blogger Iglika Ivanova . This is due largely to lost productivity and higher health care costs associated with poverty.

- As can be seen in the table below, most Canadian jurisdictions have implemented a “poverty reduction strategy” at some point in the past decade.

Porverty Reduction Strategies

-Yukon does not yet have a "poverty reduction strategy."

-Yukon's rate of food insecurity amongst social assistance (SA) recipients — as measured by the Canadian Community Health Survey — is significantly higher than for SA recipients in the rest of Canada. This is almost certainly due to the higher costs of food in Canada's North. This is cause for concern, especially since poor nutrition predisposes individuals to multiple health problems, including hypertension, diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

-The budgets of lone-parent households in Yukon are especially stretched. In fact, lone-parent households in Yukon are twice as likely to live in overcrowded housing than the rest of Yukon households.

-The housing market in Whitehorse (which accounts for three-quarters of Yukon's population) is a very challenging place to be trying to find affordable housing. The average price of a house in Whitehorse has increased by 80% in the past six years (even after adjusting for inflation). And as of March 2012, the rental vacancy rate in Whitehorse was just 1.3% (yet, a 'healthy vacancy rate' is generally believed to be in the 3-4 % range).

-Federal funding for social housing (on long-term operating agreements) is running out. Most already-existing social housing units in Yukon currently depend on federal funding for their operation and maintenance; this includes the cost of fuel, power and water. As the federal contributions start to run out (see figure below), this will leave much of Yukon's stock of social housing in a very vulnerable position. (Every Canadian jurisdiction is facing this challenge, and Steve Pomeroy does a very good job of writing about the national picture here . But Canada's North, where housing is much more expensive, is especially vulnerable on this issue, and I've previously written about that here .)

Federal Funding for Social Housing in Yukon

-Yukon is one the only jurisdictions in Canada that fully 'claws back' the National Child Benefit Supplement from SA recipients, thereby denying households on SA up to $2,200 annually for one child. This is presumably done by the Yukon Government in order to make gainful employment seem more attractive. (However, another way of making gainful employment more attractive would be to invest more in child care.)

-The report discusses findings from recent research on Quebec's $7/day daycare program. That research argues that Quebec's program has resulted in 70,000 additional mothers being gainfully employed; it also argues that for every one dollar the Quebec provincial government spends to operate its daycare program, it gets more than one dollar back in provincial tax revenue. Yet, my report notes that fewer than one-third of Yukon children are in licensed child care.

-Over the years, the Yukon Government has relaxed its earnings-exemptions rules for SA recipients. This has made it easier for Yukon's SA recipients to earn money from gainful employment. SA benefit levels in Yukon have also increased steadily — even after adjusting for inflation — since the mid-1980s.

-Yukon's economy has been performing very well in the past decade. Using tax data put together by fellow PEF Blogger Armine Yalnizyan, my report notes that, between 2001 and 2008, the number of Yukon tax filers (i.e. individuals) earning more than $250,000 annually more than quadrupled.

-Between 2008 and 2010, while the Canadian economy as a whole grew by just 1%, Yukon's economy grew 11%.

-Yukon, along with Alberta, has no public debt.

-The report reminds readers that, in November 2010, an all-party House of Commons Standing Committee recommended "that the federal government immediately commit to a federal action plan to reduce poverty in Canada…" The report also recommends that the Yukon Government, in addition to taking measures of its own on poverty reduction, remind the federal government of the vital role that such a federal action plan could play in poverty reduction.

(-There is some good recent news on poverty-reduction in Yukon. As of May 1, Yukon's minimum wage increased to $10.30/hr., making Yukon's minimum wage the second-highest in Canada.)

All of the information pertaining to my policy report can be found here: www.homelesshub.ca/Yukon.

Reprinted with permission from The Progressive Economics Forum


Nick Falvo is a doctoral candidate at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and teaches a course on affordable housing and homelessness in Carleton’s School of Social Work. His research interests include poverty, affordable housing, social assistance, homelessness and post-secondary education policy. Under the supervision of Dr. Frances Abele, he is currently involved in two SSHRC-funded research projects looking at poverty and affordable housing in Canada’s North. And his doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Saul Schwartz, consists of three essays on social assistance. Nick is a frequent blogger and op-ed writer, a steering committee member of the Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) and the PEF Events Coordinator for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Economics Association. Prior to his doctoral studies, Nick was a Parliamentary Intern in Ottawa, and then worked for 10 years as a community social worker with homeless persons in Toronto. Contact him at falvo.nicholas@gmail.com

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
May 17, 2012

President Obama’s recent endorsement of marriage equality gives much hope to millions of people in the queer community, however, there is still much more work to be done, especially with regards to the extremely high number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth who are bullied, abused, kicked out, and forced to leave home due to homophobia and transphobia. Research studies continuously report that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population and that approximately 25-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, however, there is seldom any follow-up or further investigation into the phenomenon of LGBTQ youth homelessness, which has created a large gap in knowledge in this area, leading to barriers for agencies, policy makers and health care providers trying to respond to the needs of LGBTQ youth, perpetuating a situation whereby this population is underserved and their needs are unmet. What we do know, however, is that a high proportion of LGBTQ homeless youth feel safer on the streets than in shelters due to homophobic and transphobic violence in the shelter system and this desperately needs to change.

 

 

My PhD study examines the lack of support available to LGBTQ homeless youth in Toronto and specifically asks: What changes need to be implemented in the current shelter system in order for it to become safer, more accessible and more supportive for LGBTQ homeless youth? Several relevant secondary questions that arise from the main inquiry include:(1) In light of previous research findings which establish a need for specialized services for LGBTQ homeless youth, what kind of specialized services are needed? (2) What kind of training is needed for staff in the shelter system in order to be well equipped to deal with situations of homophobia and transphobia? (3) What underpins and recreates the current problems and barriers that LGBTQ youth face in the shelter system?

 

These questions are being answered through a series of research stages methodologically comprised of participatory research, critical ethnography, and arts-informed research. The research stages will help identify the changes that need to be implemented in the current shelter system to render it safer, more accessible and supportive for LGBTQ homeless youth. The first stage of the research study examined the adults who work in the shelter system and focused on the training they have received, their levels of preparedness in dealing with situations of homophobia and transphobia, and how the shelters operate. Data collected in the first stage included shelter staff focus groups, one-on-one interviews with shelter Executive Directors, City of Toronto management, and facilitators of shelter training workshops, and observations of three shelter training workshops. The second stage of research identified the local problems faced by LGBTQ homeless youth in Toronto and explored how the shelter system has let them down and their everyday experiences within the system. I conducted 10 one-on-one interviews with youth aged 21 to 29 years. I had originally proposed the third and final stage of data collection to be a Digital Storytelling project with a small group of previously homeless or street-involved LGBTQ youth. Each youth was going to be provided with a digital point and shoot camera and asked to take both still photos and video footage representing the problems they have encountered in the shelter system, as well as a representation of where they found support due to the problems they have encountered in the shelter system. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and difficulty with recruitment, I was only able to complete one Digital Story with one youth.

 

My preliminary data analysis indicates that the issue of homophobia and transphobia in the shelter system is much greater than our current understanding. Several key themes that have emerged include the need for shelter staff to receive Anti-Homophobia training as soon as possible, as well as LGBTQ terminology training; and the issue of youth facing intersecting oppressions in the shelter system, specifically, homophobia-transphobia-racism-ageism.

 

This study serves as an important call to action for all levels of government, policy makers, shelter directors and staff, youth, and the general public to improve the shelter system and support services and to increase funding for specialized programs for LGBTQ homeless youth so that the necessary support is in turn available. For more information, please visit: www.ilona6.com

 

Thank you,

Alex (Ilona) Abramovich


Ilona Alex Abramovich is a Doctoral Candidate in the Adult Education and Community Development program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education-University of Toronto. Alex’s research focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and queer (LGBTQ) youth homelessness in Toronto. Alex is currently investigating the changes that need to be implemented in the Toronto’s shelter system in order for it to become safer, more accessible, and more supportive for LGBTQ youth who are homeless. Alex’s PhD study is methodologically comprised of Arts-informed research, Critical Ethnography, and Participatory research. As an artist, activist, and researcher Alex is interested in the use of Digital Storytelling, photovoice, and filmmaking. For more information on Alex's work, please visit: www.ilona6.com

 

York University
April 11, 2012

There’s a new national player in the struggle to end homelessness in Canada.  The new Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness was launched last week, and promises to be an effective champion for ending homelessness in Canada by mobilizing communities and governments across the country to develop and implement their own 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness. Check out their newly released “A Plan Not a Dream”, a document that outlines the Ten Year Plan approach.

“We will seek to make progress one community at a time, building on the proven success of communities like Calgary.” says Tim Richter, who will head up this effort.  The CAEH will also play a strong role in ensuring that all levels of government in Canada do their part in supporting communities, including through investment in affordable housing.

Why do I like this new Alliance?  First, the focus is on supporting communities, municipalities and provincial and national governments to develop strategic and coordinated responses to homelessness.  I have long argued that we need to move away from a response that simply provides emergency services such as shelters and drop-ins.  In many, if not most communities, the provision of emergency services means that homelessness is addressed through a fragmented patchwork of such services, often with a heavy dose of law enforcement (we have to acknowledge that the criminalization of homelessness IS unfortunately part of our national strategy to address homelessness).

The Ten Year Plan model, first pioneered in the United States, but successfully adapted in many Canadian cities, has shown that we can shift this focus, not only though strategic coordination, but also by emphasizing prevention and rapid rehousing (it should be noted that Housing First is a central strategy of the Ten Year Plan model).  This means retooling the emergency sector to ensure that people don’t languish in shelters for years.  The Ten Year Plan model has been proven effective, and Tim Richter will bring his experience from the highly successful model in Calgary to the national stage.

A second strong feature of the approach advocated by the CAEH is the foundational belief that research and data collection must be part of the solution.  For too long in Canada, we have said: “We don’t need research to solve homelessness; we know what the problem is, and we know what the solution is”.  Wrong!  This kind of thinking has actually gotten in the way. In communities that have successfully addressed homelessness, research has been used to address instrumental concerns (does Housing First work?), pose conceptual challenges (How can we shift the focus to prevention), implement program evaluation, and as a means of supporting systems-based responses through data management (such as the highly successful HMIS system).   Research DOES matter.

Now some people may question whether we need yet another national entity for addressing homelessness.  Won’t this just increase competition and dilute the effort?  In fact, the CAEH and other important national voices such as the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, Raising the Roof, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Wellesley Institute and Eva’s Initiatives, as well as many other significant local groups have already signaled not only their intent, but their active commitment to working collaboratively in a way that enhances the work of everyone. 

Others may question whether there is much to be learned from a model that originated in the United States, or whether the Alberta experience is transferable to the rest of Canada.  Well, on that front, we need to get over ourselves!  We need to identify the best ideas; figure out what works; and adapt these practices to new contexts.  I don’t care where an idea comes from.  If it’s a good idea and it is proven effective, I’ll take it.

Calgary Homeless Foundation
November 29, 2011

Last week, I was in Yellowknife, where I released results of new research on affordable housing in the Northwest Territories (NWT). The research project was sponsored by the Social Economy Research Network of Northern Canada, and was a collaboration with the Centre for Northern Families.

Research findings include the following:

    • Housing indicators suggest that the state of housing in the NWT (especially in small communities) is much worse than in the rest of Canada. While 2% of Canadians report living in “crowded conditions,” that figure is 8% for rural NWT. And while 8% of Canadian households report living in housing that requires major repairs, the figure is 22% for rural NWT.
    • Housing is more expensive to both build and maintain in the NWT than in the rest of Canada, and there are three main reasons for this.  First, building costs are higher in most parts of the North, especially areas that do not have road access; building costs on the Arctic Coast are roughly $300 per square foot, which is roughly double the cost in some other parts of the NWT.  Second, utility costs (i.e. electricity, fuel, water) in the NWT, for the average household, are more than double the Canadian average. Third, there is a considerable amount of poverty in the NWT, especially in small communities, meaning that a large proportion of households in the NWT require public housing, which is a relatively expensive form of government-assisted housing. (Public housing requires a very deep subsidy–i.e. as much as $20,000 per unit, per year, in the NWT–for the operation and maintenance of that unit. Among other things, this subsidy covers fuel, power and water.)
    • Due to many of the above factors, the Government of the NWT pays considerably more on housing than a ‘typical Canadian province.’ While the average province pays $61 per capita on housing, the Government of the NWT pays $1,672. Ergo: the Government of the NWT pays more than 25 times per capita on housing than what is the norm for a Canadian province.
    • In light of the above, the NWT is very reliant on federal funding for the building, operation and maintenance of housing. But across Canada, federal funding agreements for housing (most of which began in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and which typically last between 35 and 50 years) are starting to expire.  In the NWT, all federal funding commitments of this nature will completely expire by 2038. In the NWT, in the absence of new agreements with the federal government, roughly half of all public housing units will disappear by 2038. Put differently, the issue of expiring operating agreements is very significant throughout Canada, including in Toronto, but even more pressing in the NWT.
  • The research results, which appear as a chapter in the 2011-2012 edition of How Ottawa Spends, suggest that a long-term, permanent commitment is required by the federal government in order to sustain housing in the NWT.  The chapter argues that it’s more cost effective for the federal government to reinvest the savings it accrues (as current agreements run out) into fixing already-existing housing, than it would be to allow current units to disappear completely and to then rebuild from scratch. (This general argument has been made before by Steve Pomeroy in the following report, commissioned by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.)

All of the information relating to last week’s launch of the research can be found here, including a PowerPoint presentation I gave in Yellowknife on Thursday, and plain-language summaries of both my chapter and that of Dr. Frances Abele (who supervised this research and has a chapter of her own in the same publication on the federal government’s northern strategy).

This post originally appeared in The Progressive Economics Forum


Nick Falvo is a doctoral candidate at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and teaches a course on affordable housing and homelessness in Carleton’s School of Social Work. His research interests include poverty, affordable housing, social assistance, homelessness and post-secondary education policy. Under the supervision of Dr. Frances Abele, he is currently involved in two SSHRC-funded research projects looking at poverty and affordable housing in Canada’s North. And his doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Saul Schwartz, consists of three essays on social assistance. Nick is a frequent blogger and op-ed writer, a steering committee member of the Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) and the PEF Events Coordinator for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Economics Association. Prior to his doctoral studies, Nick was a Parliamentary Intern in Ottawa, and then worked for 10 years as a community social worker with homeless persons in Toronto. Contact him at falvo.nicholas@gmail.com

York University
November 10, 2011

Homelessness continues to be a visible problem in most Canadian cities.  I would say most Canadians, when they think about how we respond to homelessness, would consider emergency shelters, drop-ins and soup kitchens – charitable programs set up to shelter and protect people while they are homeless – as central to our response.

But what about policing and law enforcement?  What about the issuing of tickets and fines for panhandling or sleeping in parks?  Such practices, which essentially criminalize homelessness, are every bit as central to our response.


At a time when the growing divide between rich and poor is in the spotlight, how we choose to deal with society’s most vulnerable – the people who occupy our streets not by choice but by necessity – is important to consider.  The criminalization of homelessness runs counter to the “Canadian way.” It is out of line with our principles as a just and civilized society.

Two reports that highlight the downside of criminalizing homelessness in Canada have been Cup on a fencereleased this week.  “Can I See Your ID?  The Policing of Youth Homelessness in Toronto” (Bill O’Grady, Stephen Gaetz, Kristy Buccieri) and “La judiciarisation des personnes en situation d’itinérance à Québec : point de vue des acteurs socio-judiciaires et analyse du phénomène” (Dominique Bernier, Céline Bellot, Marie-Eve Sylvestre, Catherine Chesnay) both explore the impact of policing on homelessness. The first report, Can I See Your ID, reveals that despite strong evidence that panhandling and squeegeeing have declined over the past ten years, the amount of tickets issued under Ontario’s Safe Streets Act has increased exponentially, rising from 780 issued in 2000, to over 15,000 in 2010.  All this has left homeless people with an accumulated debt of over $4 million dollars.

I was a prostitute so they stopped me pretty much every night.Interviews with street youth reveal that they receive a huge amount of attention from police, not only in the form of tickets, but also through regular ‘stop and searches’. This attention is not limited to those who are criminally involved – the evidence is clear, street youth are being subject to social profiling.  In particular, being young, male and visibly homeless in downtown Toronto means you are very likely to have regular encounters with police.  The second report also documents consistent practices of criminalizing homelessness across seven Canadian cities (Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, and Halifax).

How does any of this make sense?  Issuing fines to people with little or no money does not help them move forward with their lives. It alienates and traumatizes an already marginalized population and makes moving out of homelessness that much more difficult.  Ample research from the United States highlights the negative impact of criminalizing homelessness (Culhane 2010; Ruddick, 1996; NLCHP, 2006; 2009).  While we often consider the use of law enforcement – including both policing and incarceration – as a characteristically ‘American’ response to poverty, we need to accept and realize that we do the same thing in Canada (Hermer & Mosher, 2002; Sommers, 2005; Sylvestre, 2010).  Whether this means creating new laws that target homeless persons, (banning panhandling or sleeping in parks), or simply using existing laws in a disproportionate or discriminatory manner, (tickets for drinking in public, jaywalking etc.), the goal is to harass people who are homeless so they stay away from public places – spaces that we are all entitled to use.  The outcome of all this is debt, a greater likelihood of going to jail, and the outright violation of the rights of Canadian citizens.

Panhandling on the sidewalk while playing music

In recent years, several Canadian studies have highlighted the bidirectional relationship between homelessness and prison (Gaetz & O’Grady, 2006, 2009; Novac, Hermer, Paradis and Kellen, 2007; Kellen et al., 2010).  That is, being homeless means you are more likely to go to prison, and prisoners – unless they receive effective discharge planning and supports, are more likely to become homeless.

All of this raises important questions. If people are afraid of those who are homeless, should the police intervene?  The answer is no.  One might be afraid of someone because of the way they look, their second hand clothes, their ethnic background, or the colour of their skin, but that doesn’t mean they actually pose a real threat.  Using police intervention to respond to public fear that is based on stereotypes and prejudice is unacceptable.  Then why don’t we object when this happens to people who are homeless?

If the general public, business owners and politicians find homeless people annoying or unseemly and don’t want to see them on their streets or sidewalks, is there an obligation for the State to act?  Perhaps there IS an obligation  . . .  but doesn’t it make more sense to address homelessness by ensuring there are the necessary resources and supports (including an adequate supply of affordable housing) to prevent homelessness in the first place or to help people move into permanent housing?  Let’s stop treating the symptom through punishment, and instead let’s go for the cure! 

To read the full reports, visit: 

Can I See Your ID?  The Policing of Youth Homelessness in Toronto 

La judiciarisation des personnes en situation d’itinérance à Québec : point de vue des acteurs socio-judiciaires et analyse du phénomène

Pages

Recent Tweets

Content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License

The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.