On March 8, I gave a guest presentation to students in Professor Naomi Lightman’s Sociology of Work class at the University of Calgary. I was joined by Alexander Kulakov and Amit Nade, employment coaches at the Mustard Seed. My PowerPoint slides can be downloaded here.
Here are 10 things to know:
- In Calgary, there aren’t enough jobs to go around, and income support programs for those without work are inadequate. According to the most recent Labour Force Survey, there are almost 173,000 adults in Alberta actively searching for work  (in spite of this, 15% of persons experiencing homelessness in Alberta do report some income from employment). While some unemployed people qualify for Employment Insurance (EI), most don’t. And for those who do qualify, benefits are both modest and temporary. Unemployed people who don’t qualify for EI can always apply for social assistance, but these benefits are even more modest (for an overview of social assistance throughout Canada, see this blog post; and for an overview on social assistance in Alberta specifically, see this blog post).
- For persons experiencing homelessness, one major barrier to finding and maintaining work is poor health. According to Stephen Hwang: “Homeless people in their forties and fifties often develop health disabilities that are more commonly seen only in people who are decades older.” Consider some of these findings from one of the most comprehensive health surveys done on persons experiencing homelessness in Canada: 41% of persons experiencing homelessness report being “usually in some pain or discomfort.” Yet, for the general population, the figure is 15%. Among people who are usually in pain, 35% of persons experiencing homelessness report that pain being “severe,” while for the general population the figure is just 2%.
- Mustard Seed has an employment program for persons currently experiencing homelessness. That program is funded entirely by private giving (i.e., charitable donations from individuals and foundations). One stream of this program involves one-on-one coaching. This stream is geared toward those needing the most support (typically persons with the poorest health outcomes). Staff help people with resumes and cover letters. Staff even physically go out job searching with participants. Another stream involves job preparation in a group format; this happens at the Seed Academy. Assistance is provided with writing resumes, writing cover letters and networking. Employers even come in and do mock interviews! The third stream of the program is designed for people who are very close to landing a steady job (and in some cases have even received a formal offer). Participants in this stream can get short-term financial assistance to purchase such things as clothing, tools, and transportation to another part of Alberta.
- The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre (the DI) has an employment program funded by Alberta’s provincial government. The DI’s program has two employment specialists who meet one-on-one with persons experiencing homelessness. The DI also provides a three-week training program in which people are trained in interview skills, employment strategies, resume writing, financial literacy, first aid, forklift operation, interviewing and employee rights. Staff at the DI then follow up with graduates at 90 days, and then again at 180 days. In the span of one month, this program gets 800 unique individuals out at a job at some point. Also during the course of one month, as many as 500 different employers use this service.  The majority of the jobs are general labour (i.e. moving and lifting things; landscaping; clean up). This particular program is especially good at helping workers to find jobs at festivals (i.e., Canada Day, Lilac Festival, Calgary Pride, etc.). Where possible, the DI tries to turn casual positions into full-time ones—last year, they managed to get 21 full-time permanent positions created out of this initiative.
- There are several other employment-readiness programs for persons experiencing homelessness in Calgary. For example, Calgary John Howard Society has a Learning Enhanced Employment Program for persons involved or at-risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system; it’s a three-week training program. Also, the DI has a WoodWorks program—it’s a social enterprise that funds itself through the sale of the product. Participants work in the program for 12 weeks, with the goal of then entering directly into the woodworking industry.
- The most successful participants in all of these programs tend to be relatively healthy (compared to others experiencing homelessness) and be between the ages of 25 and 60. Healthier workers having more successful outcomes will be intuitive for most readers. Meanwhile, one of the reasons workers over the age of 60 struggle with work is that some computer literacy is often required for jobs. According to Patty Rideout from the Seed: “Most jobs, even entry level work, require employees to use technology for work schedules, reporting, or organization.”
- Persons housed by programs funded by the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) see a modest improvement in employment over time. CHF stewards a large database with information about persons funded in Housing First programs that we fund. We have data on more than 3,000 unique individuals. A quick glance at employment status upon entry, compared with three months later, suggests a modest increase in percentage of clients employed (based on self-reported data).
- In some cases, persons experiencing homelessness are overqualified for jobs. One employment support worker in Calgary tells me via email: “We are taking master’s degrees off of resumes to try to get clients working.” This may speak to the fact that, even in Calgary, there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. (Note: this year’s Alternative Federal Budget would create 470,000 full-time equivalent jobs across Canada in just one year.)
- More affordable child care in Calgary would make it easier for parents experiencing homelessness to access employment. A lack of subsidized child care is a major barrier to employment, especially for women. In the case of households experiencing homelessness, this is especially challenging. The median monthly childcare fee for a Calgary infant is $1,250. (For a recent review of barriers to affordable childcare across Canada and a proposed ‘way forward,’ see the child care chapter in this year’s Alternative Federal Budget; and to see the Alberta picture, see the child care chapter in this year’s Alberta Alternative Budget (coming soon!).
- Just as affordable housing can improve employment outcomes, so too can employment help end homelessness. According to the DI’s Santino Marinucci: “We have many successes in helping clients achieve their housing goals with independent living through employment. It is one of my personal goals to start tracking metrics related to employment and housing moving forward.”
In Sum. Too few jobs, inadequate income assistance programs, major health challenges and a lack of subsidized child care all pose barriers to employment for persons experiencing homelessness. Fortunately, programs in Calgary offered by Mustard Seed, the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, and Calgary John Howard Society help many persons experiencing homelessness to overcome some of these barriers. For a ‘big picture’ advocacy ask at the federal level that could address all of these issues, check out this year’s Alternative Federal Budget; and for a similar ‘big picture’ ask at the provincial level, check out this year’s Alberta Alternative Budget (coming soon!).
The author wishes to thank Anna Cameron, Tanya Gerber, Alicia Kalmanovitch, Naomi Lightman, Santino Marinucci, Chidom Otogwu, Patty Rideout, John Rook, John Rowland and Debbie Tripp for assistance with this blog post. Any errors are his own.
This blog post has been republished with permission from the Calgary Homeless Foundation website.
 This figure doesn’t include the many discouraged workers in Alberta who’ve given up looking for employment.
 These impressive figures may help explain why more than 30% of persons experiencing homelessness in Calgary report some income from employment, while the average for Alberta’s homeless population as a whole is just 15%. Specifically, this is in response to the question: “Where do you get your money from?”
Park-Extension is an undeniably contested landscape located in northernmost Montreal, Que., along the stretch of Parc Avenue in the Villeray-Saint-Michel-Park-Extension borough of the city. It is one of Montreal’s poorest neighbourhoods, with 44% of its approx. 33,000 residents living with low income.
Up until very recently, Park-Extension was, to the city’s owning class, strictly a place to visit. It’s an area where poverty affects a broad age range of residents, including children under 6 and seniors; it’s also made up of a large immigrant population (61%), the highest percentage in the city.
It is an ethnically diverse area with residents originating from a wide array of countries including: Haiti, Algeria, Vietnam, India, Portugal and Bangladesh, that had so far been spared from the rampant housing speculation and financial encroachments that are par for the course in a Montreal housing market that’s currently hitting 10-year highs. Notably, Park-Extension’s recent immigrant residents have underrepresented access to the neighborhood’s public housing stock.
To Faiz Abhuani, founder of housing initiative Brique par Brique, there is potential to equitably alter the neighbourhood’s current housing demographic, despite an encroaching shift on the horizon of Park-Extension’s housing landscape as a major university development initiative has recently been funded by the province. 2019 will see the Université de Montréal open a $145-million science complex that will result in marked changes in the people who choose to make Park-Extension their home.
As students, faculty and staff move into the neighbourhood, large numbers of families and local businesses who are already struggling to make ends meet will face displacement.
Brique par Brique’s mission is to meet this challenge head-on by creating an affordable and financially sustainable community housing project for its members, facilitating mutuality between neighbourhood residents, and engaging neighbourhood residents in the initiative’s governance and build and sustain an accessible social innovation hub for the community.
Abhuani speaks to the emergence of gentrifying forces in the area, and the motivations for his new initiative. This is what he says on the initiative:
“Right now, me and my colleagues live in and around Park-Ex and are for the most part from Montreal. We are from racialized communities and our project is grounded in a real need for infrastructure that is managed by and for marginalised people. We are mandated to offer priority access to those we believe are the first to be displaced and we are working with, the Comité d’action de Parc-Extension: the local tenants rights organization, as well as the largest government-funded social housing management group to insure that we are defining our membership criteria correctly. However, we also are aware that these lists have their limits. That is why our mandate also includes certain broad equity policies. To be specific, we are offering priority to people who already live in the area, who identify as being racialized, LGBTQ2I as well as people Indigenous to this land.”
In stark contrast to the large-scale, institutionalized approach to Quebec’s social and community housing development, which requires intimate interfacing with private developers and a public sector management infrastructure, Brique par Brique is a housing initiative whose funding model is based on a community bonds approach.
According to Abhuani, the main difference between Brique par Brique's model and other models is in how solidarity is conceived. Practically speaking, Brique par Brique is filling a niche market. It is developing housing where government programs are not equipped to intervene because they are not sensitive to the particular circumstances of inner-city urban renewal.
Further, Brique par Brique seeks to bring more than simply affordable housing infrastructure to the neighbourhood. In addition, it provides services that support other aspects of their mission (e.g., building mutual engagement amongst residents). As Abhuani has said, Brique par Brique is more than just a housing project; it is also a community center. The project offers basic services (e.g., access to a food bank and a childcare net
work) and cultural programming, with the intention of supporting people’s connections to the one another and the neighbourhood. Membership dues are based on an equity-driven sliding scale approach. Abhuani explains that the aim of Brique par Brique is “to slow down displacement by offsetting the inevitable increased cost of living with an increase in the local services provided.”
A model like Brique par Brique allows for increased control in how capital is generated and used in urban development initiatives, pushing back on displacement caused by urban gentrification. Rather than relying on government funds, Brique par Brique is membership driven.
This is what Abhuani says on how Brique pas Brique is funded:
“Our project is funded by people who want to support our objectives. This means ... we can offer communal space. We can build larger apartments for larger immigrant families. We can practice positive discrimination. We can refinance at shorter intervals and use that cashflow for whatever our members deem to be priorities. In short, we can create wealth and empower our residents more effectively than traditional projects can because our members do not have to share power with their creditors.”
Brique par Brique’s approach is innovative and bold. But without a precedent for this type of multi-faceted, membership driven initiative, it is hard to predict what its outcomes will be. Some indication of complexity of the situation was revealed recently in conflicts emerging over land-use in the neighbourhood. The Johnny Brown Building, also known as Hutchison Plaza, has become ground zero for Parc-Extension-led struggles against displacement. The re-development of Hutchison Plaza -- formerly a residential building -- is being led by BSR Group, a private developer who recently purchased Hutchison Plaza, promptly serving its multitude of residents with eviction notices. The building now stands empty and is slated for the upwardly mobile makeover necessary to welcome the sort of urban professionals who’ll seek proximity to the new university campus.
Brique par Brique has to be careful as it gains momentum in the neighbourhood, according to Abhuani. This is what he says on the matter:
“We are in a position to both raise awareness around gentrification and to contribute to it as well. Hutchison Plaza is a good example. BXB was initially meant to negotiate some sort of deal with the developer to offset his impact on the neighborhood by contributing to our project. However, some residents did not accept this. Some believed that the development of the plaza could be halted, while others believed that regardless of the outcome it would be best to fight it and never accept a contribution from the promoter. BXB is founded on solidarity, but can that solidarity be extended to gentrifiers? Many of our investors are local homeowners or prospective homeowners. They may not have the impact of BSR Group, but they do contribute to the rising property values.”
As local demonstrations call for a halt to the development of Hutchison Plaza, questions emerge about who gets to say who comprises “the community,” who gets to stay and who will go. We anticipate Brique par Brique will have an important role to play in these ongoing conversations. While it is currently, an isolated and fledgling initiative, Brique par Brique is nevertheless a story of resistance.
“If we want to stop people dying on roads, we invest money in seatbelts, not in the emergency department. In the same way in regards to homelessness, why would we wait to intervene with a young person when they’re in crisis, when we can intervene early and keep them at home, and in school and engaged?” – Peter Jacobson, manager, youth services, BCYF, Australia
Ending homelessness means investing in homelessness prevention – that is, stopping people from becoming homeless to begin with. This involves a change in the way we think about homelessness. Rather than managing the problem through emergency services, such as soup kitchens and shelters, it makes more sense to intervene before the loss of housing occurs, or if someone does experience homelessness, to get them stably housed as quickly as possible. This requires several sectors, like the health, education, justice, child, and housing systems to work together to implement policies and interventions that lower the risks of homelessness.
The Public Health Model of Homelessness Prevention
The public health model of prevention is helpful in altering the way we can respond to homelessness. This model was developed in the 1940s by Leavell and Clark and, was initially used to reduce the risks and harms associated with disease, illnesses, and injuries; that includes smoking, diabetes, strokes, and car accidents. This model was eventually adapted to address societal issues, like crime.
Risk Factors of Homelessness
To decide where prevention legislation, policy, and practices must be implemented, it is important to identify the causes of homelessness. Though these causes are organized into three intersectional categories, we need to keep in mind that the causes of homelessness are complex and involve a number of interacting factors that may play out in different ways from individual to individual.
- Structural factors are economic and societal issues that limit opportunities and reduce resiliency for the general population.
- Systems failures are inadequate policies and service delivery.
Examples: barriers to accessing public systems, such as health, social services and legal supports, and failed transitions from publicly funded institutions and systems, such as child welfare and corrections
- Individual and relational factors are personal circumstances that increase the risk of homelessness.
Similar to knowing potential causes of diseases, illnesses and injuries, we can put systems and interventions in place to reduce the likelihood that someone will experience homelessness when we know the potential causes of homelessness. The public health model of prevention contains a variety of prevention measures that should operate at the same time. In addition, all these areas play a unique and essential role in homelessness prevention.
Primary prevention of homelessness looks a lot like disease initiatives in the form of risk reduction. This involves altering the behaviours and exposures that can lead to a disease or by enhancing resistance to the disease, such as getting vaccination. When thinking about homelessness, primary prevention aims to reduce the risk of homelessness for the entire population by addressing broad structural factors that contribute to this risk and by building protective factors. Primary prevention takes the form of universal interventions aimed at entire communities as well as targeted interventions for at-risk communities.
Primary prevention breaks down into three categories targeted at different populations:
- Universal prevention – programs available to the entire population and helps to create greater equality.
- Selected prevention – programs aimed at people who may be at risk of homelessness because they belong to a particular group, such as individuals facing inequality and discrimination, particularly Indigenous Peoples.
Examples: school-based programs and anti-oppression strategies, and support for people facing discrimination to access public and private services
- Indicated prevention – programs aimed at people at higher risk of homelessness due to individual characteristics.
Secondary prevention of homelessness further resembles preventing a disease once a person has been exposed to it, such as quick early detection via screening procedures. For homelessness prevention, secondary prevention involves identifying and addressing homelessness at an early stage by directing interventions to individuals either at imminent risk of homelessness, or who have recently experienced homelessness. The goal is to avoid or exit homelessness quickly by either retaining their housing or using rapid rehousing strategies to ensure people move into permanent and stable accommodation that is affordable, safe, and appropriate with the supports they need.
For diseases, tertiary prevention involves softening the impact caused by the disease on a patient’s function, longevity, and quality of life. Tertiary prevention of homelessness supports to ensure that those who have experienced homelessness never experience it again. It provides housing stability and other supports to those experiencing chronic homelessness to find and maintain housing.
Importantly, Housing First is a type of tertiary prevention because it provides no-barrier housing and the wrap-around supports needed to keep people stably housed.
It is important to note that primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention do not represent separate categories. They are interrelated and must occur simultaneously.
“We would never build our health care system around the emergency department only” – A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention
The public health model of prevention is important because it helps us realize that we need to intervene at different levels at all times. It’s not enough to focus in on just one of the areas. We need to reach the general population, those at imminent risk of homelessness, and those who have experienced homelessness. To end homelessness, we need to address all three areas of prevention.
This blog is the second instalment of a four-part series on homelessness prevention. You can read the first blog article here.
Since we launched the A Way Home Canada coalition in 2015, communities, provinces and even countries around the world have adopted the A Way Home name as a way to attach themselves to this growing international movement for change. What we seek is a fundamental shift in how we respond to youth homelessness, from a predominantly crisis response to one that focuses on prevention and sustained exits from homelessness. To make this shift happen, we must work across the systems that drive young people into homelessness to ensure they are part of the solutions. Over the upcoming months, I’ll continue to showcase efforts to do just that; and this month, our spotlight shifts to Kelowna, B.C. We’ve worked for years with amazing partners across B.C., and have supported Kelowna in various ways to get here, but the majority of the credit goes to the dedication and commitment of the community to take collective action.
I reached out to Belinda Jackson, the project coordinator for A Way Home Kelowna with some questions about Kelowna’s vision and approach for developing a targeted youth strategy embedded in the community’s homelessness strategy writ large. Kelowna is home to a population of 127,380 (based on 2016 Census) and is located in the beautiful Okanagan Valley in B.C. The convenor of this project is the Canadian Mental Health Association - Kelowna branch and Belinda’s work is guided by a steering committee. This steering committee consists of representatives from the Bridge Youth and Family Services, Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, United Way, Central Okanagan Foundation, Canadian Mental Health Association – Kelowna branch, Westbank First Nations, Ministry of Child and Family Development and the City of Kelowna. The steering committee is led by two co-chairs: Mike Gawliuk (a long time member of the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness), Canadian Mental Health Association – Kelowna branch and Diane Entwistle, Okanagan Boys and Girls Club.
Here is my Q & A with Belinda Jackson:
Why did Kelowna decide to launch AWH Kelowna?
Youth service providers in Kelowna have been collaborating on key issues in the area for years. A workshop in 2016 with a number of community partners identified youth homelessness as a key priority for service providers. Funding was then secured from an anonymous donor to bring together the required resources to undertake the process for developing an A Way Home Kelowna initiative to address youth homelessness.
There are a limited number of options for youth seeking housing options in our community with a handful of organisations offering youth specific housing services. In a community with a 0.2% vacancy rate and rents averaging $1,043 per month (CMHC 2017), finding suitable, safe, and affordable housing is a major challenge. In addition, for young people struggling with substance use concerns, there are no local residential treatment options available. The current opioid crisis in the province of B.C. underscores the urgency to act and meet the needs of young people struggling in this area.
While a decision had been made to develop a local A Way Home Kelowna community plan, the City of Kelowna had identified addressing homelessness as a key priority area. This resulted in a Social Development Manager to undertake this work. This is also the city representative on the A Way Home Kelowna Steering Committee. The timing of the City and the youth service providers could not have been more perfect. This presented an opportunity to truly embed A Way Home Kelowna into a broader strategy to address homelessness in our community.
Kelowna’s last Point-in-Time (PiT) count (which was conducted in February 2016) identified that 15% (n=15) of the total homeless population (n=233) were under the age of 24, slightly lower than the Canadian average of 20%. However the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness highlights that PiT counts often underestimate the true number of young people that are experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, as they are more likely than adults to make up the “hidden homeless,” with many couchsurfing or in other forms of temporary, unstable, or unsafe housing.
What's the vision guiding your work?
The vision of Journey Home is to have a clear place to go for support if someone has lost or is about to lose their home. This means taking on a “no wrong door” approach, meaning any agency can connect an individual with the services they need. A Way Home Kelowna adopts that vision with a specific focus on youth and ensuring a fully integrated system of care to meet their diverse needs.
What do you hope to achieve?
While we are hoping to achieve functional zero for youth homelessness and homelessness generally in our community, there are four key actions that we will endeavor to achieve in this process:
· Enhance collaboration and partnerships in the community for systems level interventions
· Launch and implement a community strategy to address and prevent youth homelessness
· Pilot innovative practices to address youth homelessness
· Engage youth with lived experience early and often
Can you talk about the importance of aligning the dedicated youth strategy with the broader community systems plan to prevent and end homelessness?
When you consider what the ideal system of care looks like in any community, you really need to think about the necessity for care to be delivered along a continuum that is truly seamless. Aligning a dedicated youth strategy with the broader community systems plan helps address the traditional gaps in the system between the youth and adult serving sectors.
Journey Home, the community’s broader homelessness strategy driven by an appointed group of community members and facilitated by the City of Kelowna, will embed and integrate a youth lens throughout. This provides a unique opportunity for AWH Kelowna to align with the Journey Home initiative, ensuring not only an ongoing mandate to deliver but the ability to ensure AWH Kelowna maintains a prominent profile within the umbrella of Journey Home. There are few instances in Canada where a long-term homelessness strategy will encompass a youth component in the plan development process and will ideally serve as a blueprint for the process moving forward. By incorporating youth at the get-go, it will ensure the needs of youth are prioritized as a key area of focus and that the unique responses required to address their needs are front and centre.
What's the role of youth with lived experience in your process?
Youth with lived experience are the true experts on the matter of youth homelessness. We are currently undertaking a series of youth focus groups aimed at understanding:
1. Their definition of “home”
2. Their experience with the youth system in Kelowna
3. Improvements that can be made within the current system in Kelowna
4. How they would like to be involved moving forward
This process will ensure youth with lived experience are the true change makers to our youth system in Kelowna. Whether this is in the form of a youth expert committee or action group, the ideal end result will be that youth with lived experience will lead the implementation process in our community for the youth component. Honouring youth rights and desires, we are working together to determine the best ways to move forward together.
Since AWH Kelowna is embedded into the Journey Home process, we have the opportunity to leverage the work the Journey Home team is doing with those with lived experience. A Lived Experience Circle has been convened that includes all age ranges and individuals from diverse backgrounds to help identify the challenges and priorities moving forward with the Journey Home plan.
What are some early learnings from your process to date?
Kelowna is a community that is primed for action and ready to have the tough conversations in order to make progress on key issues. I’ve truly been heartened by the enthusiasm and passion of the community and its desire to tackle this issue in a thoughtful and holistic manner. This was recently highlighted at our design labs which focused on 24 priority issues identified by the community at our community summits in January. Community participants were very eager to tackle this issue in an inclusive and respectful manner.
A key challenge to date is encouraging certain stakeholders to join the discussion to be active participants in this process. There is a process of empowerment, education and relationship building that is essential to addressing the needs of all players. Part of the empowerment and education piece is highlighting the success stories in our community and where we are currently having a positive impact.
We also have a twitter account, we encourage you to follow us as we progress on journey: @awayhomekelowna
The relationship between child welfare systems and homelessness is becoming clearer, with almost 60% of youth who experience homelessness in Canada having had contact with the child welfare system. Inadequate supports through the transition out of care can become a pathway into homelessness for youth.
However, in considering the full family network in the context of child welfare, we can see further links between homelessness and this particular system. In a recent evaluation study of a Housing First program for women that chronically experience homelessness in London, Ontario, we explored histories of trauma. The program participants we interviewed, women who experienced high rates of mental health challenges, problematic substance use, gender-based violence, and relationship breakdown, identified complex histories of trauma. Yet, the foundational trauma that women spoke to over, and over, and over was the trauma of child apprehension.
Women’s homelessness includes unique pathways and unique considerations for support. These considerations may include the importance of safety, the potential need to care for or reconnect with children, risks related to sex work, gender-based violence, barriers in accessing services related to safety, reduced visibility and a disproportionate risk for experiencing poverty in general. However, while some women-specific and mixed-gender services have applied a gender lens in preventing or ending homelessness, evidence on the particularities of these services is only beginning to grow. On identifying grief and loss related to child apprehension in the context of women’s homelessness, we searched across Canada for services supporting this particular concern and found only three.
Therefore, as we recognize International Women’s Day across the world, I would encourage us all to consider the women who are left behind when children are apprehended, and the grief and trauma this experience can cause. This is an important consideration for the homelessness sector both in regards to primary prevention, and in regards to permanent and stable exits from homelessness. Proactively supporting women both to prevent apprehension and to support women through the process should apprehension occur will reduce the likelihood of downstream experiences of homelessness. For those who are already experiencing homelessness, Housing First is a proven model of sustainable exits and includes appropriate supports. For many women, appropriate supports means addressing grief and loss related to children.
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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.