Calgary Homeless Foundation
November 02, 2017

Evelyn Peters and Julia Christensen recently wrote an edited book on homelessness among Indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Excluding the Introduction and Conclusion, more than half of the chapters are either authored or co-authored by an Indigenous person. A useful contribution to researchers, students, consultants and policymakers in all three countries, it should be required reading for anyone wanting to learn more about homelessness experienced by Indigenous peoples.

Here are 10 things to know about this book.

  1. The book contains lots of useful information. In Chapter 1, Christensen—citing research done previously by Yale Belanger, Olu Awosoga and Gabrielle Weasel Head—notes that on any given night in Canada, approximately 7% of Canada’s urban Indigenous population is homeless, compared to fewer than 1% for Canada’s total population. Chapter 8, authored by Yale Belanger and Gabrielle Lindstrom, includes a succinct, three-page section titled “Understanding Indigenous Homelessness” that provides a useful history of the Canadian context. And in Chapter 9—co-authored by Rebecca SchiffAlina Turner and Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff—we learn that many Indigenous people in Canada migrate from urban to rural areas (as well as between rural areas). By contrast, it is commonly believed that Indigenous migration in Canada happens only from rural to urban areas.
  1. The book includes contributions from three countries with similar social welfare systems. The book looks at Canada, Australia and New Zealand, allowing readers in each respective country to learn from other countries’ experiences and perspectives. What’s more, many researchers will appreciate the opportunity to compare the experiences of these particular countries because all three are considered “liberal welfare states.” That means their social welfare systems are considered stingier than those of many other OECD countries—they have relatively low rates of taxation, relatively low levels of public social spending (including spending on housing for low-income households) and relatively high levels of income inequality (the United States, while not a focus of this book, is also considered a liberal welfare state). At the other extreme of the spectrum are social democratic welfare states (e.g. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden); they’re known for having relatively generous social welfare systems—relatively high tax rates, relatively high levels of public social spending (including spending on housing for low-income households) and relatively low levels of income inequality.[1]
    book cover
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  1. The book’s account suggests that the history of Indigenous peoples in all three countries is similar. As Dr. Peters notes in the book’s Conclusion: “All of the [book’s] authors situate their analysis within the ongoing legacy of Western colonialisms that dispossessed people of their lands, waters and resources, attempted to destroy Indigenous cultures, and resulted in intergenerational individual and collective trauma…Indigenous homelessness cannot be understood without recognition of this legacy” (p. 390).
  1. One of the book’s chapters which I found very empirically-grounded was Chapter 4 which makes the case that police often relocate Indigenous peoples from affluent areas of Edmonton to poor areas of the city. Chapter 4, written by Joshua Freistadt,is a condensed version of the author’s PhD thesis, which can be downloaded here[2] and which is now available in book format here. (I suspect that people involved with the Homeless Charter of Rights project in Calgary will find this chapter especially interesting.)
  1. Chapter 13, by Kelly Greenop and Paul Memmott, calls for the need to rethink the concept of crowding for Indigenous peoples. Indeed, the authors suggest that, rather than think of crowding in simple mathematical terms (e.g., number of rooms per person, square footage per person), we should consider asking Indigenous people to personally define how crowded they actually feel. To make this point, the authors draw on previous research done by Robert Gifford. The authors also note that, for some Indigenous people, too few people in a house can be a problem. (This information is useful to the Calgary Homeless Foundation as we continue to plan and design culturally appropriate housing with and for Indigenous peoples. In 2016, for example, we began surveying tenants about their own perception of the quality of their housing unit.)
  1. I find the book pays insufficient attention to each country’s social welfare system—including the macroeconomic factors that shape it. In fact, even though all three countries are classified as being in the same family of social welfare systems (as discussed in point #1 above) the editors make no explicit mention of this. Do the editors not believe the amount of public social spending (as a percent of GDP) in each country can have a major impact on Indigenous homelessness? What about social housing stock in each country (as a percentage of total stock)? How about the amount of money each country provides to people—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—receiving social assistance?
  1. The book could have benefited from a discussion of advocacy approaches in each country. Canada has gone through an interesting evolution of advocacy approaches to homelessness; I’ve previously discussed them here. What have advocacy campaigns looked like in Australia and New Zealand? Do advocates in those countries seek to “end homelessness?” To what extent have Indigenous and non-Indigenous advocates worked collaboratively in each country to end homelessness?[3] I would have liked to have seen these questions addressed.
  1. The book could have benefited from some quantitative analysis. My colleague and friend, Michael Shapcott, once said: “Qualitative research engages the heart. Quantitative research engages the mind.” With that said, I would have liked to have seen a bit more quantitative research in this book.  For example, in 2014, Jalene Tayler Anderson and Damian Collins authored this journal article; it looks at the prevalence and causes of urban homelessness among Indigenous peoples in all three countries considered in this book. A modified version of that article would have therefore made for an excellent contribution.[4]
  1. Chapter 1, which focuses on the Canadian context, ought to have made at least passing reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Indeed, Canada’s federal government hascommitted to “fully” implementing all 94 of the final report’s Calls to Action. These “calls to action” include calls pertaining to child welfare, health, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (all of which have important ramifications for homelessness experienced by Indigenous peoples).
  1. The book lacks content from the United States (likely because very little has been written about homelessness among Native Americans). The book includes nine chapters of Canadian content, five of Australian content, three from New Zealand and none from the United States. Trouble is, there does seem to be a shortage of research on homelessness among Indigenous peoples in the United States (one of the only recent exceptions I’m aware of is this report). The editors could have taken this issue head on by discussing this important research gap in the book’s preface (especially since the United States is also one of the so-called liberal welfare states discussed above).

In Sum. The publication of this book is a remarkable accomplishment. I consider it a ‘must read’ for anybody interested in understanding what contributes to, and what can end, homelessness among Indigenous peoples. You can order a copy of the book here.

The author wishes to thank the following individuals for invaluable assistance with this book review:  Vicki Ballance, Cynthia Bird, Sally Carraher, Janice Chan, Julia Christensen, Joshua Freistadt, Kahente Horn-Miller, Evelyn Peters, Robert Regnier, Rebecca Schiff, Michael Shapcott, Joel Sinclair, Ken Swift and Billie Thurston.  Any errors lie with the present author.


[1] Building on the work of Richard Titmuss, the early work on categorizing OECD countries into different categories like this was done by Gøsta Esping-Andersen.  Interestingly, Esping-Andersen’s work has been criticized for providing insufficient attention to Indigenous peoples (see chapter 3 in this book).

[2] More recently, it has come to light that Indigenous people in Edmonton are six times more likely than white people to be ‘street checked’ by police.

[3] For more on the importance of weighting macroeconomic and social welfare factors into any consideration of housing and homelessness, see this recent blog post.

[4] To be fair, Christensen does reference this article in the book’s Introduction.

 


You can view a PDF version of this blog post here: Book review – Indigenous Homelessness

This blog post has been republished with permission from the Calgary Homeless Foundation website.

For the Dream Team, Toronto
October 24, 2017

Safe At Home was written by the Dream Team: a peer based non­profit organization dedicated to advocacy, education, and research in the areas of supportive housing, mental health, discrimination, and stigma. This study investigates “Housing Unit Takeovers,” or HUTs: situations in which vulnerable tenants are forced to accommodate unwanted guests in their homes. During HUTs, vulnerable tenants allow people into their homes to fulfill unmet social, economic, and personal needs. In the process, the tenant is threatened physically, financially, or psychologically. People of all genders, races, and age groups are vulnerable to HUTs (Butera, Crime Prevention Ottawa, 2013).  Similarly, people of all races, genders and age groups perpetrate takeovers. Such housing predators tend to be manipulative family members or drug dealers. Often, these predators exploit the tenant’s vulnerabilities, such as addiction, isolation, disability, or poor health. The ultimate outcome is that the targeted tenant’s housing is jeopardized while they are made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe in their own homes. In some cases, HUTs can leave the targeted tenant homeless (Dream Team, 2017).

Some Dream Team members have lived in supportive and social housing where they experienced HUTs themselves. Having survived a predator’s use of drugs and money, and sometimes threat of physical harm, to infiltrate and eventually take over their households, these Dream Team members are uniquely situated to give voice to the lived realities of HUTs in Toronto today. These voices and the voices of other people with lived experience of HUTs, were central to the research carried out in the Safe At Home Project.

Supported by a grant from the City of Toronto, the Dream Team began work on the Safe At Home project in April 2016, using a community-based participatory research model. We began conceptualizing our project using some of the key terms and ideas put forward by Crime Prevention Ottawa (CPO 2013), and acknowledge their ongoing advisory support during the research process. While we concentrated on people in social and supportive housing by the terminal date of the project in June 2017, our research had intersected with regular market and non-supportive housing, and it now provides a fairly good idea of the extent to which HUTs occur in different parts of the GTA. It is also important to note that during our consultations and public roundtables, we found out that almost all housing providers know about HUTS and that most governing bodies were starting to look at them. An interesting fact is that in the absence of a cogent shared definition or measuring technique, no one actually knows how many HUTS happen, though we know they happen in all parts of the GTA and in all types of housing.

Thankfully then, HUTs seem to be getting more attention but have been underexplored in scholarly research and the mainstream media. This means that the narratives surrounding HUTs are very much underdeveloped. We were able to access two prior types of coverage. The first was mostly in the press in the UK, where HUTs were known as “cuckooing,” in reference to the cuckoo bird’s tendency to steal other birds’ nests, and the second was the important research carried out by Crime Prevention Ottawa (Butera, 2013). Although these sources acknowledge systemic issues that contribute to HUTs, the main thrust of their narratives is that the first place we must look to prevent takeovers is the tenants’ “inability” to protect themselves from housing predators. For example, Butera (2013) introduces the notion of a “complicit victim,” proposing that tenants who endure HUTs at the hands of their drug dealers are, to some degree, responsible for those takeovers by virtue of the choice they made to let people into their home. In this compelling narrative, as we understand it, the tenant is at the center of the problem and the solutions.

While The Dream Team Safe At Home Project recognizes the practical need to identify the tenant’s role and potentially protective responses as a part of the problem, our study revisits these assertions very critically. Safe At Home recognizes that HUTs are underpinned by a far more complex system of players. Namely, tenants, housing providers, law enforcement officials, lawmakers, policy designers and many others are all individual parts of a broken system that facilitates HUTs. We offer an alternative “axis of intervention” where HUTs are the dependent variable – at the center of the debates – and tenants, along with police, service providers and so on, all play roles as intervening variables that contribute to make HUTs possible.

We cannot stress strongly enough that focusing solely on tenant-based solutions is a distraction. Even though a tenant might make a bad decision to let a predator into their lives, we found that many tenants do not even recognize how some of their characteristics—including the aforementioned issues of addiction, isolation, and poor health—make them more vulnerable to HUTs. We question what the word responsibility means in the context of people who face a number of challenges that are not common outside of social and supportive housing, and from whose perspectives, the right kinds of supports do not exist.  

Many tenant respondents told us in surveys and interviews that they had never even thought of their experiences as takeovers, though, after participating in the research and seen in a new light, they felt they had been in takeovers before.  While many saw the obvious connection between their decisions and the takeovers they had endured, many others felt they had literally had no choices in the past, wondered what choices they had in the present. These individuals overwhelmingly expressed that they lacked the supports or were not aware of the resources that might have helped them avoid or escape a housing predator. Moreover, we have argued that by focusing on the role tenants play in facilitating predators’ behaviour, existing press coverage and research has yet to delve deeply into the varied and very problematic systemic variables that contribute to HUTs, such as decaying infrastructure, a lack of effective social supports, or legal definitions to support enforcement against predators.

By exploring the patterns and trends that tend to characterize HUTs in Toronto, Safe At Home is part of the foundation for forthcoming strategies that will reduce and prevent them. Amongst a number of important findings, in our final report, and our presentation at CAEH 2017, we discuss tenant and law enforcement perceptions of barriers to HUT interventions, key behavioural and social indicators of HUTS and potential HUTs, strategies for preventing and intervening in HUTs, a potentially useful HUT housing prevention program, and the immediate need for the formation of an interagency council devoted to dealing with HUTs.

Our findings are based on the results of 56 resident surveys, 24 resident interviews, 146 non-resident surveys, 2 staff interviews, and focus group discussions. We also conducted two roundtable discussions and an open dialogue through the City of Toronto’s Specialized Interdivisional Enhanced Response (SPIDER) program. Most importantly, however, Safe At Home prioritizes the voices of those who have lived through HUTs themselves. Thus, the findings, themes, analyses, and recommendations made here aim to bridge the classic divides between systemic actors like law enforcement officials and institutional housing providers on the one hand, and vulnerable individuals with lived experiences in these settings on the other.

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This research is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca. 

Prairie Wild Consulting
October 23, 2017

In September 2014, the Aboriginal Homelessness Advisory Board (AHAB) and the Provincial Métis Housing Corporation (PMHC) commissioned a project to better understand Indigenous homelessness in Saskatchewan.

The objective of this project was to provide a better understanding of Indigenous homelessness in Saskatchewan and identify the gaps in services for homeless individuals and their families.

Specifically, the project aims to identify:

  •      What agencies, service organizations, and other resources exist;
  •      Where they are located;
  •      The types of resources for homelessness they provide;
  •      What data currently exists to help determine the size and make‐up of homeless populations; and
  •      Where gaps in programming exist.

Eleven communities across Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba (Flin Flon) were visited (Figure 1).

This project took a regional approach to scanning the province to provide a picture of homelessness for Saskatchewan. It was found that the different areas of the province are all unique, and strategies to combat homelessness must be tailored to the local context. “One-size-fits-all” approaches are likely to be less effective.

There were several themes that emerged through the process. 

1. Saskatchewan is filled with hardworking service providers.

2. Definitions of homelessness can be a barrier to addressing real needs in communities.

3. An adequate supply of safe housing is universally reported as a gap.

4. More understanding of culturally appropriate housing is needed.

5. Cultural competence and Indigenous-run organizations are important.

6. Mental health and addictions are key factors in homelessness.

7. Determining the extent of homeless populations is a challenge in many parts of the province.

9. Housing First may require tailored approaches in rural and remote areas.

10. The geography of Saskatchewan can be a factor in homelessness.

11. More research is needed to understand patterns of mobility. 

12. Jurisdictional issues are a factor in homelessness.

13. There is a gap in emergency shelters specifically for men.

14. There is a gap in transitional housing.

15. There is a gap in in housing for single people.

Housing and Healing First

One of the most prominent of the themes that stood out is the topic of mental health and addictions. Service providers pointed to the fact that poor mental health and addictions (and low levels of wellness in general) can be linked to a host of other factors that also influence homelessness. These include a lack of housing, housing in poor condition, and overcrowded housing; intergenerational trauma; and the cycle of poverty.

In terms of housing, mental health, addictions, and wellness in general, an example of policy to consider for the HPS Non-Designated funding stream would be to support initiatives that promote a “housing and healing first” model, as shown here:

The Saskatchewan Non-Designated Aboriginal Homelessness funding stream supports initiatives that provide both housing and wellness, with the goal of ensuring housing solutions work in tandem with culturally relevant healing and wellness supports.

The term “wellness” is used here because it can represent a variety of healing supports, including mental health and addictions.

Related areas of funding support could include:

  • Initiatives that partner housing development with service providers, including wellness agencies that are able to access external sources of funding (i.e. collaborations with Ministries such as Social Services or Justice); and
  • Initiatives that support capacity-building for wellness supports in communities (such as ensuring agencies and trained workers exist that can partner and provide culturally relevant wellness supports)

Governance to Support “Housing and Healing First” models: Aboriginal Homelessness Advisory Board

In light of the goals for combining housing and wellness supports, shown above, the report recommended that AHAB consider seeking out board members with service provision and wellness experience, in addition to those with expertise in housing development.

Indigenous population in Saskatchewan map
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[1] PMHC. AHAB. March 2015. Environmental Scan: Aboriginal Homelessness in Saskatchewan, Off-Reserve and Outside Saskatoon and Regina. Prairie Wild Consulting. http://pmhc.ca/resources/

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This research is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca.

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This blog is based on a revised version of the project summary found in the full report - PMHC. AHAB. March 2015. Environmental Scan: Aboriginal Homelessness in Saskatchewan, Off-Reserve and Outside Saskatoon and Regina. Prairie Wild Consulting. http://pmhc.ca/resources/

 

HELP USA
October 20, 2017

The field of behavioral economics offers a unique perspective into the phenomenon of homelessness – one that focuses on individual behavior and unites economic, social, and psychological factors in a way that previous models have not. This approach advocates a conception of homelessness as the result of a series of conscious choices, and recommends a focus on these choices as opportunities for intervention. It examines how and why individuals are forced to make choices that may result in homelessness and explores how upstream interventions in housing instability, and curated and critically timed choice sets can preserve housing and prevent the tipping point into homelessness, especially for high risk populations such as young adults with children.

HELP USA's logo
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Historically, homelessness prevention has focused on identifying the cause of homelessness, and attacking that cause. This has led to effective interventions, but not universally applicable. A theorist who believes homelessness is a purely economic problem might try to raise income for at-risk people through job training, benefits counseling, and direct financial assistance. Similarly, a researcher who feels that homelessness is a mental health issues, not an economic one, would focus on counseling and treatment. Either approach varies in efficacy, depending on the applicability of the intervention. In either circumstance, the individual or family must be in acute crisis for a number of months to allow time for the intervention, which is expensive and psychologically damaging.

Instead of focusing on a “root cause” model, let’s look closely at the mechanism by which people become homeless, and attempt a better approach for more tactical interventions. Rather than think of the reasons for homelessness, what if we study the moment when people within a certain cohort “choose” to be homeless and find commonalities among an array of individuals? It is then possible to leverage social psychology and behavioral economics to engineer choice sets and environments in which people are nudged toward decisions that will not result in homelessness.

This concept of “choice” in homelessness is often overlooked. We tend to think of homelessness as the inevitable result of broad social trends. Sometimes, this is the case. Large-scale economic depression does correlate strongly with increases in homelessness. But analysis at this level can only tell us so much. Homelessness at the micro-scale is the result of hundreds of choices, often between options that are equally unappealing. As economic challenges grow, so does the difficulty of the decision-making, and the consequences of each choice. For some families, it could mean choosing to purchase school supplies instead of paying rent. It could mean paying only half the rent in another month so holiday gifts can be purchased. These decisions are fraught with emotion, and can yield life-altering results. As economic conditions tighten, these seemingly small decision points and cash-flow constrictions move out of the realm of merely stressful, and quickly evolve into housing crises.

Many homeless or marginally housed (living doubled up with others) people could not afford housing based on 100% of their income, so the resulting homelessness is based on the lack of economic and social resources (O’Flaherty, 2006). For people living with extremely low incomes, choices related to housing may be between utilizing a high proportion of their income on poor quality housing, or increasing expenditures on other fixed costs while sacrificing housing altogether (Quigley, Raphael & Smolensky, 2001). As severely impoverished people face a scarcity of resources, opportunity costs, defined as, “those costs associated with foregoing the next most attractive course of action” (Friedman and Hetcher, 1988, p. 202), and homelessness may be the most attractive option. Alternative models of explanation have emerged, taking into consideration the paradox of choices homeless and at-risk people must make when presented with challenging economic and social realities (Lovell & Cohn, 1998).  

Assuming that individuals are generally rational actors, it is nearly impossible to imagine a person choosing to become homeless. A rational actor would never subject herself, or family, to such a string of negative externalities if another option existed. As a result, much of the literature surrounding homelessness has focused on one of two things: the societal and structural forces that act upon individuals and force them into homelessness (the “root cause” theorists) or the individual psychological factors that would cause a person to be homeless.

But there is a third conception, one that treats homelessness as the result of a series of choices made by humans acting in what they believe to be their best interests. Often these choices are made under severe duress, with incomplete information, or without advance knowledge of potential consequences, but they are choices nonetheless. If we view homelessness through this lens, we can start to construct a conceptual framework for a different type of intervention – one based on influencing housing-unstable individuals at critical moments when they are making choices that result in homelessness. Using this framework, we can place control back into the hands of those individuals and employ relatively inexpensive intervention techniques to guide people away from homelessness.

People are generally risk-averse and conservative, and frequently act to prevent the loss of something that is highly valued such as a home. It follows that well-grounded and well-run homeless prevention activities should successfully prevent people from reaching a position where they must make the choice between literal homelessness and some other unstable or untenable housing situation. The positive outcomes from HELP USA’s past 13 years as a HomeBase homeless prevention provider clearly illustrate the impact and success of homeless prevention services. HELP USA’s HomeBase programs enrolled over 10,000 families in fiscal years 2014-2016. Messeri, O’Flaherty & Goodman’s (2011) research on HomeBase finds that for every 100 families enrolled, shelter entry falls 10 to 20%. HomeBase programs yield significant cost savings to the City of New York. It costs approximately $38,000 per year to house a family in a NYC shelter, and the average length of stay is 13 months, which equates to an average cost of $41,666 for each family in shelter. HELP’s homeless prevention programs have prevented thousands of families from homelessness. Net cost savings for the prevention of literal homelessness ranges from the very conservative $3.6 million to a liberal estimate of $31 million.

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This research is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca.

University of Toronto
October 18, 2017

When a citizen votes, much of the voting process depends on the home address. For example, voter cards are mailed to home addresses, and phone calls encouraging people to vote are made to the phone number associated with their addresses. Candidates also knock on people’s doors at times, and polling stations are assigned based on locations. What does this emphasis on a fixed place in our electoral system mean for citizens that may lack a permanent address at the time of an election?

Experiencing homelessness does not strip Canadians of their citizenship. Canadians experiencing homelessness, therefore, must have equal access to practicing their right to vote. On the other hand, citizens experiencing homelessness are not often considered when discussing voting and elections. While there are processes in place that ensure individuals experiencing homeless can vote, they are complex and include additional actors as well as greater individual effort. They also remain relatively unknown to those affected.

The research I conducted for my master’s thesis examined the barriers that individuals experiencing homelessness in Toronto face while voting. I spent eight weeks in the field, in the city of Toronto, conducting 45 interviews with service providers, individuals experiencing homelessness, politicians, and election agency representatives.

The Process

sign for voting station
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There are processes in place to allow citizens without a permanent address to vote. On the other hand, they are often too complex. There are also differences depending on the level of election, particularly around the need for identification. When it comes to the need for identification, the federal process is the most rigid; provincially, there have been amendments to the process that do not require identification; municipally, there are various ways that citizens without a permanent address can vote, with or without identification. What all three processes have in common is the involvement of service providers from institutions for individuals experiencing homelessness. Service providers often need to ensure that their institution is authorized by the election agency, and then are provided documentation that they can distribute to clients. Such documentation can act as proof of residence at all levels of elections, and in Ontario, even as identification.

What my research found is that there is a disconnect between the actors involved in the process of voting for citizens lacking addresses. Service providers rarely cited election agencies or the government as sources of information regarding voting or elections. The process involves service providers playing the role of mediators, but this begs the question of whether or not service providers are aware of the role they have been assigned. Service providers that I interviewed expressed a desire to encourage their clients to vote. They did, however, identify a lack of resources to do so. No additional resources are provided to assist in the dissemination of information and adding voting to institutional mandates. Furthermore, although information is sent from election agencies to institutions serving individuals experiencing homelessness, not all service providers recall receiving such information—which often included documentation needed to vote. If information regarding the process and the necessary documentation are not provided to citizens experiencing homelessness, how are they to know how to vote, let alone actually do so?        

Knowledge on the Process

Over half of the participants experiencing homelessness were not aware that they could vote without a permanent address. This speaks to the common stereotypes—are citizens that experience homelessness not voting because they don’t want to, or because they are not aware of their right to do so?

Although there are stereotypes that assume citizens experiencing homelessness do not want to participate in elections, or that they are politically uninformed, my research found that this is not the case. Almost all of the participants experiencing homelessness were politically aware, eager to discuss politics and recent elections or campaign promises. Although participants were also disengaged from politics, and argued for politicians to pay closer attention to poverty in the city, they were still politically informed.

Almost three quarters of participants had voted in the past, although only a quarter did so using the process for those without a permanent address. Of the participants that did not vote, 80% were unaware of the processes. This speaks to the possibility that the lack of information regarding the process may impact the likelihood of voting. Many participants were particularly surprised that they could vote without identification at the provincial level. Others stated that they wished they knew about the processes, and that regardless of the complexities, they would have voted if they had known.

Two participants cited the lack of knowledge of polling staff. One participant in particular was asked to wait and pulled aside until someone who knew the process could be called. Having more actors, particularly those that are necessary to the process, knowledgeable and trained on the processes was often emphasized as necessary. Other vital actors in ensuring the information gets passed down to citizens experiencing homelessness were politicians. The politicians I interviewed were aware of processes existing, but were not always sure of the details of the voting processes. Furthermore, not many included citizens experiencing homelessness in their campaign efforts; as one politician argued, it is often assumed that citizens experiencing homelessness do not vote, so efforts are focused on populations and areas where there are citizens that do vote, presumably.     

What needs to be done?           

My participants were eager to offer steps to move forward. These included:

-       More information, not just for individuals experiencing homelessness, but also the pertinent actors (service providers)

-       More training, particularly for polling clerks and election staff on the process

-       Making the processes easier by harmonizing process across the different levels of government, which was often cited by service providers

-       Coordination between election agencies, politicians and service providers

-       Ensuring politicians are part of the solution, and have them reconsider their assumptions on which citizens are voters

Conclusion

The political citizenship of citizens experiencing homelessness needs to be considered but currently, there is a lack of data surrounding homelessness and voting, as well as a lack of research regarding the political citizenship of a vital group of Canadians. I am very interested in expanding this research to determine all of the actors involved in ensuring that citizens experiencing homelessness are aware of, and able to express, their political right to vote. What are the actors involved and what are their responsibilities, if any? Are they aware of their responsibilities? How do they interact with one another and citizens experiencing homelessness?

Furthermore, the processes in place often assume that citizens experiencing homelessness are accessing services. With many of the processes requiring service providers, and many individuals being unaware of the process, what does this mean for individuals not accessing services?

Ensuring that citizens experiencing homelessness are able to politically participate in our society and have a voice in the democratic process is vital, and an important step forward to policies aimed at reducing rates of homelessness.

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Neglected Citizenry: Homelessness and Voting in Toronto is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca.

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