This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at email@example.com, contact us through Facebook or even Tweet us your questions and we will provide a research-based answer.
Last week we received this question via Twitter :
Thanks for a great question. Multiple answers come to mind.
- Sometimes they DO listen. The Province of Alberta is miles ahead of every other government in Canada in terms of showing strong leadership and commitment to end homelessness. In 2009, they became the very first province/territory in the country to actually pledge to end homelessness. For three years their work was overseen by the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness which released a 3 year progress report card in 2012 on the goal of ending homelessness. In early 2013, the Secretariat was replaced by the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness. This council brings together several different arms of government, as well as other stakeholders, to ensure that there is a systems-wide response and commitment to the plan. There are seven cities in the province — Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Wood Buffalo, Red Deer and Grand Prairie — who have developed multi-year plans to end homelessness. Alberta also has a strategy to reduce child poverty.
- The NIMBY syndrome — Not In My Backyard — is a huge problem in getting governments onside. Many politicians tend to listen to those people who a) have power and b) have money. As a result, home owners and neighbourhood associations often hold more sway than tenant groups and homeless advocates. Affordability and Choice Today has a great powerpoint presentation “Housing in My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY.” While it’s geared towards politicians and municipal staff and politicians it can help anyone learn about overcoming NIMBYism. In a research report, “The Homeless Crisis in Canada: If Not in My Backyard, Then Whose? Overcoming Community Opposition to Homelessness Sheltering Projects Through the Use of Conflict Theory” Jeannine E. Wynne-Edwards looks at a variety of case studies to understand the roots of NIMBY opposition and suggests recommendations for countering it. Even governmental agencies have developed anti-NIMBY work. “Gaining Community Acceptance of Affordable Housing Projects and Homeless Shelters” is a report on workshops developed through a partnership between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and and the Housing and Homelessness Branch of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) to work with communities in addressing NIMBYism.
- Political advocacy is multi-layered process. You have to make the right case, to the right people, at the right time. Using a variety of different techniques and tools often has the greatest impact. It isn’t an easy battle but it is winnable. It is possible to end, or at least extremely reduce, homelessness in Canada.
- Telling personal stories can have a huge impact. The Dream Team, a group of mental health survivors who advocate for supportive housing, have used videos, post card campaigns and lawsuits to challenge both NIMBYism and to call for more supportive housing. By telling their stories — see Philip and Linda sharing their stories — they help educate the public and government alike about the importance of supportive housing and how it helped get them off the streets.
- Write, email or call your politician. Since so many people don’t speak up your voice has power. You can find contact info for MPs here. Don’t forget, no postage is required to send a letter to your federal Member of Parliament. Ask them where they stand on the issue and what they plan to do to end homelessness.
- Build an alliance of like-minded people to share a similar message. Many cities — like Greater Victoria and Ottawa — already have coalitions to end homelessness or similar groups that are active and engaged. Join their mailing lists or volunteer with one of these groups to learn more.
- Stay informed so that you can speak about the issue using facts and figures. Both the Homeless Hub and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness have newsletters that provide great information and resources. Share these with your colleagues, friends and family.
- Use social media to your advantage. State the facts. Clearly. Repeatedly. Politicians can get overwhelmed with the barrage of information that comes at them daily. Here at the Homeless Hub we love sharing infographics and simple facts on Facebook and Twitter to make our points. In talking to politicians here are some resources and statements you can use:
a. Homelessness costs $7 billion annually.
b. More than 30,000 people are homeless any given night. (Pick a city near to your politician’s hometown that is close to that size and say “Imagine if everyone in XX city was homeless.” (As an example, Stratford, ON; West Kelowna, BC and Moose Jaw, SK are all very close to the 30,000 mark).
c. It is much cheaper to house people than it is to keep them in shelters, hospitals or jail.
It seems to be pretty common for my generation to worry about graduating into the labour force without an abundant supply of good, stable employment. As the infographic below points out, the price of housing is also increasing and it becomes a challenge to live in some major cities. For some of those who graduate from post secondary institutions, there can be some risk once they are unable to access loans that supported their ability to live on their own. Some people adjust to this change by moving back in with family, others may be forced to temporarily “couch surf” with friends (becoming part of the hidden homeless population).
Despite this worry, it can be problematic to think that everyone is being affected equally by these economic conditions. Overall, businesses are still more likely to hire people with a university education (as mentioned in this Huffington Post article). This still creates a greater advantage to those who are emerging with a degree.
Youth who are experiencing homelessness face additional barriers that prevent them from immediately getting a job. At times youth may be accessing multiple support services to survive, while also trying to find a job that requires them to compete with others who have more education and experience. This scenario makes finding employment even more daunting.
There are organizations such as those that partner with Raising the Roof that are working hard to create better jobs for young people experiencing homelessness. Organizations have helped youth gain employment skills and experience by providing necessary support and building relationships with businesses. There are great examples and models that have been established for designing these programs throughout each province in Canada.
Despite the frustration of long job searches after graduating post-secondary education, Canadian youth who have a degree also have the potential to access better jobs than those without (that is not to say that all graduates have equal access to good jobs). Therefore, it is important to call for the creation of jobs for those with the highest levels education however, it is also important to address the lack of stable jobs for those with barriers to the labour market.
The resources we posted last week highlight not only the diversity of the Homeless Hub’s audience, but also that of the research being done across Canada in the homelessness sector. The highlights from last week include:
A new study by researchers from Simon Fraser University found that Housing First reduces re-offending among formerly homeless adults with mental disorders. This is one of the first studies to have examined the effect of Housing First on criminal behaviour.
The first week of September always brings with it the beginning of a new school year. For teachers, the Homeless Hub offers several curriculum units to help them undertake homelessness as a topic in their classroom. These curriculum units were recently redesigned and officially relaunched last week.
To commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, Henry Eastabrook, an Outreach-Advocate Worker at London InterCommunity Health Centre wrote an informative blog post that outlined the harm reduction practices and services that can be utilized to dramatically reduce overdose death rates. He cited effective programs such as Insite in Vancouver, and suggested similar services be expanded to other communities across Canada.
Friday’s “Ask the Hub” question answers a question anyone who currently is or has ever been homeless has asked themselves at one point: I’m Homeless… Now What? Tanya Gulliver provides some important tips and suggestions for anyone who finds themselves in this situation.
Lastly, our Graduate Assistant, Isaac Coplan, has spent the past few months summarizing dozens of dense research articles into concise, 2-page, plain language summaries. Isaac shares his research summary process in a blog post and infographic.
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide a research-based answer.
Yesterday, via our Twitter account, we received this question:
First of all, are you safe? Whether you’ve been kicked out by your parents, fled an abusive relationship, left a burning building or been evicted (or any other of the myriad reasons people become homeless) your safety is important. If you feel you are in immediate danger of serious harm call 911. If you are mobile (vehicle or public transit) go to a public space — police station, library, shopping centre etc. — until you can figure out your next steps.
Secondly, remember two important facts:
- You are a person experiencing homelessness. Don’t let others categorize you to the point that they put your homelessness first and you second.
- For the majority of people homelessness is a very transitory state. In our State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013 we shared that 29% of people using shelters stay for only one night and the majority of people are homeless for less than a month.
Third, look to see what resources exist within your own social network. This is not the time to be shy about asking for help. Do you have friends or family who might let you stay for a day or a week? Is there someone who owes you $50 that might be in a position to pay it back? Do you belong (or have you ever) to a faith community, cultural group, service club or other association that might be willing to help you out? Unfortunately, many people become homeless when they have exhausted all these resources.
Fourth, find out what is available in your community. Many cities across Canada have either 211 or 311 systems in place; these are both free calls from a payphone or regular phone. 211 provides links to community organizations which could include rent banks, housing help centres, food banks, shelters, drop-in centres or meal programs. There are matching online resources as well such as BC211 and 211 Nova Scotia. 311 has information about services available through your municipal government which could include shelters, drop-ins and other resources. If you can find a telephone book, there are emergency resources listed in the very front and government resources listed in the “blue pages”. Some communities also publish resource guides for people experiencing homelessness including this one from New Orleans and this one for youth from Niagara Region.
Finally, remember for the majority of people, this too shall pass. You will make it through and become stronger on the other side.
August 31 marked International Overdose Awareness Day. IOAD began as an annual event in Australia in 2001. At its core it is a day for remembering and a day for dialogue. For an increasing number of people the issue of overdose and overdose death is very close to home. I personally know far too many people who have died from opiate overdose. Although it seems inconceivable to most of us, overdose deaths are nearly tied with car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ontario. In other parts of North America more people die from overdoses than car crashes. What is most tragic about these statistics is that overdose deaths are preventable.
There are many things we can do to reduce overdose death rates. Practices like community naloxone distribution and supervised substance use services are now known to be scientifically sound and have proven to dramatically reduce overdose death rates. In order to for these programs to be successful we must first remove the moral lens through which substance use is viewed. I’ll delve into this more in a moment.
Human use of perception-altering substances is pre-historic. Substance use is associated with many cultural, religious, social and health related activities. Since the dawn of the Industrial Age when social, geographic and economic displacement became common-place in most European cultures, substances like alcohol and opioids have been used for relief of both physical and emotional pain. In the last three-hundred years our use of these substances has become increasingly compulsive. Scientists tell us this compulsion is related to diminished production in our brains of naturally occurring chemicals like dopamine and serotonin which are related to feelings of well-being, joy and peace. When we experience stressful events such as poverty, sudden loss and psychological trauma the brain becomes less capable of producing these feel-good chemicals. Humans know what to do when our serotonin and dopamine are depleted: we seek pleasurable activities, including compulsive eating of sweet and fatty foods, television watching, computer gaming, extreme sports, sex, online pursuits, shopping, gambling and the consumption of alcohol and other substances like opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and chocolate.
So, since all of these activities produce the same results for different people, why is the use of opiates, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamines judged as immoral or a sign of weakness by those of us who seek our dopamine and serotonin via other activities? It is because these substances are illegal. And why are they illegal? Surely it can’t be because they are bad for you – there are so many other compulsions we enact legally which are equally or perhaps more dangerous. Since this is not the time and place for me to go into a lengthy thesis about the utter failure of the so-called War-on-Drugs, I will leave these questions for you all to ponder at a later time.
Although we are not going to solve the War on Drugs today we should, at the very least, look at ways to remove the moral judgment that is applied to the use of these drugs. In doing so we can accept that harm reduction practice is the least good thing we can do to reduce overdose deaths. Education about the dangers of using these drugs as the sole measure of prevention is, despite its good intentions, a woefully inadequate measure. It is no more effective than any other campaign to prevent any cause of untimely death. Although abstinence works for some people for many others it is neither realistic nor desirable. This is especially true for people living in poverty and who experience homelessness and are deprived of safety and any sense of emotional well-being. People in these circumstances often find their best source of solace for a mountain of distress is the chemical alteration of their consciousness. To find fault in this very human response to seemingly inalterable turmoil is both indecent and hypocritical.
What is needed to reduce the high rate of overdose deaths, particularly among people who live in poverty and use opioids, are measures like community naloxone distribution programs and supervised substance use services. Once we remove our moral lens about substance use this much becomes crystal clear: finger pointing, blame and shame are not helpful and will not prevent overdose deaths from occurring.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. It temporarily reverses the effects of opioids and keeps opioid overdose victims alive until medical intervention is available. Naloxone is found in every ambulance, every emergency room and in many doctor’s offices throughout the world. Given Ontario’s growing epidemic of non-medical opioid use, naloxone should be available in every home. Community naloxone distribution is a practice that has already been in place for nearly twenty years. It involves training people who use substances like opiates, methamphetamine and cocaine, and their loved ones to administer naloxone. Participants are trained in CPR and learn how to properly administer naloxone where ever it is needed. Once trained, participants carry naloxone, along with a certificate showing they have been trained to administer naloxone.
Naloxone works for the sole purpose of temporarily reversing the effects of opioids, including respiratory arrest which is what causes opioid overdose death. It has no other use and is only dangerous to the one in a million persons who are allergic to it. Community naloxone distribution programs have saved many thousands of lives. Participants in the training also feel more a part of their communities and have often reduced their substance use to a more manageable level. Community naloxone distribution makes sense on every level. I think Londoners should demand such programs here.
Most of us are aware of supervised substance use programs such as Insite in Vancouver. These services prevent overdose deaths every day. They should be regarded as essential services for people experiencing poverty and homelessness who use illegal substances. Many of us in this city see the need for such a program here. I firmly believe that the presence of community naloxone distribution and supervised substance use would have prevented the deaths of just about all the people whose loss we grieve on International Overdose Awareness Day. Please look inside your hearts and consider what may be possible if we look at this issue in the absence of judgment and misunderstanding.
For more information please visit our Topic - Substance Use & Addiction.
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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.