“When you see injustice – do something about it” (Robert Moses)
We recently returned from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness’ National Conference on Ending Homelessness. What an amazing week! Surrounded by enthusiastic, smart, committed people – people with lived experience, researchers, politicians, practitioners, community members - all working together to do something about homelessness. This isn’t a celebration of just how wonderful we all are, of course, but rather a chance to move the agenda forward because we all understand that there is still so much to do.
Nevertheless, we want to comment on some of the highlights of the conference.
- Research presentations – There were so many outstanding papers and sessions focusing on research that has real implications for policy and practice. One that stands out was the session on “Homelessness Prevention” (the new frontier, as far as we are concerned), with great presentations from Kathy Kovacs-Burns, Amanda Noble, Cordelia Abankwa, and Deborah Rutman. Another session I enjoyed was one on “Measuring Progress to End Homelessness”, with Abra Adamo, Ron Kneebone and Jill Atkey. Who knew economists could be so funny (Ron) and interesting? There were many more great sessions, but we couldn’t get to them all of course. The point is that the research community is showing its value by contributing conceptual and evaluative research that will make a difference.
- Focus on Youth Homelessness – One gets a real sense that we are at an important turning point in how we can and should deal with youth homelessness. The special conference focus on youth homelessness (both the pre-conference session plus the panels during the conference) emphasized the degree to which we need solutions to youth homelessness that take account of the special needs of adolescents and young adults. The sessions highlighted what we know about effective plans to end youth homelessness, the adaptation of Housing First to meet the needs of young people, and important innovations that are happening across the country. There was also a call to take on youth homelessness at the national, regional and local levels through a new “Coalition to End Youth Homelessness”. The enthusiasm for all of this was best expressed through the packed rooms (standing room only, people watching from the hallways) for virtually all of the youth sessions. People are ready for action – we know what we need to do, now lets do it!
- People with Lived Experience – There was a real effort to include people with lived experience in this conference, in a way that was both respectful and meaningful. The pre-conference session entitled “Nothing about us, without us: People with lived experience taking leadership to end homelessness” explored ways of bringing lived expertise to the center of service delivery, research and advocacy. The great group of people involved in this session are holding everyone in the sector to account to ensure that the voices of those who are too often marginalized and ignored are heard and respected. Specifically, the group came up with 7 principles to guide the work of the sector.
a. Bring the perspectives of our lived experience to the forefront;
b. Include people with lived experience at all levels of the organization;
c. Value our time and provide appropriate supports;
d. Challenge stigma, confront oppression and promote dignity;
e. Recognize our expertise and engage us un decision-making;
f. Work towards our equitable representation;
g. Build authentic relationships between people with lived experience and without lived experience.
Stay tuned, because this group has plans to expand on these principles over the coming year!
- Media Folder:
Relationship building – One of the things that is going to help move things forward in ending homelessness is the opportunity to share and collaborate. The large and diverse group of conference attendees included a cross section of service providers, people with lived experience, researchers, policy makers and community members. The presentations, workshops and even private conversations demonstrate the great work that is taking place in the sector. As we move forward, we will need to consider strategies of inclusion to ensure that more Aboriginal people, racialized minorities and members of other marginalized groups play a leading role in setting the agenda and participate in this relationship building.
- Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub table – This next one might only be a highlight for us, but we’re going to mention it nonetheless: the Homeless Hub booth was a huge success! We had so many visitors and received so much positive feedback about the work we do…plus we sold a ton of books! As a result, we have to thank all of you for making the conference so worthwhile and memorable for us!
A fantastic week! It’s clear to everyone, however, that no matter how great this conference was, we’re nowhere near done. Homelessness continues to be a crisis in Canada. The silver lining was very visible at the conference: there is a bright, committed and tireless group of people working towards the solutions that will bring an end to homelessness in this country. We are honoured to be a part of that circle and to work closely with many of you.