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Julia is a single mother who is one pay-check away from being homeless. She has a low income job and spends more than 30 per cent of her income on rent. She is on a long waiting list for social housing. She cannot afford child care for her two children and is often forced to make hard economic choices between basic needs or depending on food banks and other social assistance to make ends meet.(1)
After moving and attending eight or nine different schools, Mike gave up on his education, quitting after Grade 10….Mike [eventually] slept in parks and shelters. He hung out in Gore Park and the library. He went to Living Rock Ministries for food, showers and friendship. He went to employment offices for help with his resume. And nearly every day he went to job interviews. But nobody was interested.(2)
Who are the Homeless? | Challenges | Do Justice | Through Ministry | Through Advocacy | More Links & Resources
Most likely, at one time or another, you have encountered the bleak picture of a homeless person huddled over a grate, covered in a blanket or some old newspapers. This, however, is only one stereotypical face of homelessness. A different face of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness emerges when we get to know a “Mike” at a community ministry or listen to the story of someone like Julia in our church. Stories like theirs can be found in any community, but no two stories are alike. Homeless people are a very diverse group and their stories are complex: it takes more than some wood and nails to make a “home” and, for each homeless person, there are always different societal and personal issues involved in their situations. One thing, however, is consistent: it is always first about the lack of adequate shelter, or about being “houseless.” This is a basic place to start; however, even this is not so black and white. Consider the following categories of houselessness:(3)
Absolute houselessness is when people are “using public or private shelters” or sleeping “in public places or in any other place not meant for human habitation.”
Other people are “temporarily housed with friends or family,” which is called "concealed houselessness." These people cannot afford adequate housing and, without this temporary solution, they would be out on the street or in a shelter.
There are also many Canadians who are inadequately housed, or in substandard housing. A person in this kind of housing situation is comparable to a homeless person: s/he is “deprived of the human right of a housing situation without health hazards” which would allow that person to fully develop his/her capacities. These people and others can be at risk of houselessness: they may lose their housing “either by eviction or the expiry of the lease, with no other possibility of shelter in view.” Single parent families, Aboriginal people, the elderly, students and new Canadians are most at risk; however, middle income families facing situations of instability without community support are also at risk.
Factors that May Contribute to Becoming Homeless:
More on Persons who are Homeless or At Risk of Homelessness:
Where Do We Begin to Search For Solutions?
Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) encourages a community ministry model which incorporates justice and advocacy. When we meet people who are at-risk or homeless, our first response is often to meet their short-term needs. Churches, in particular, do a good job of organizing the collection of resources and providing material provisions for those in need. In ministering to people who are homeless, many churches, perhaps even yours, have provided meals and blankets, have also volunteered at shelters or even run a program out of their church building. These types of actions are essential to help meet the short-term needs of the homeless in our communities; however, they also have the potential of having long-term effects. Depending on the type of shelter with which you or your church is involved, the provision of food, basic needs items, children’s items etc. can help to free up resources to enable growth for a ministry or shelter; these provisions can also help residents of shelters to save the money needed to re-establish themselves. Further than that, church volunteers can be a practical expression of Christ’s love to people in shelters, impacting lives and being impacted at the same time.
DMC agrees with Citizens for Public Justice that “affordable and adequate housing… [are] integral to the social, economic and personal well-being of individuals and families. Public justice demands that all people can access the goods and services necessary to maintain their dignity as human beings and to carry out their responsibilities. Justice requires us to ask whether our neighbours have equal access to basic rights like housing.”(7) Justice also requires us to act, to find ministry opportunities that help to begin to find answers to those questions.
If you are already involved in addressing the needs of homeless people through ministry, DMC challenges you to also engage with the issue of homelessness, and work for long-term solutions. Government or privately-funded, long-term solutions “must move beyond providing more emergency shelter beds, more sleeping bags, and more drop-in centers. Everyone needs a private, adequate place of their own. The problem cannot be solved until people without housing have settled into a stable and adequate place to live. They can then devote more time to addressing other problems they face and society can better target the non-housing forms of assistance some may require so as help them remain in their housing and become productive members of society.”(8)
“Public justice calls us to question the structures in our society that deny people their right to live in dignity and have equal access to resources.”(9) The Canadian government, therefore, is “responsible for protecting the rights of their citizens and for promoting the well-being of communities by investing in affordable housing and providing necessary funding and infrastructures. There is a great need for strong political leadership to create a comprehensive housing strategy that ensures all Canadians, regardless of income, have access to affordable housing.”(10) DMC challenges you to hold our government accountable, and to look for opportunities to advocate on behalf of those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
* available from Chapters/Indigo at www.chapters.ca.
"Unheard Voices" produced by Mike Yam and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, is a film that follows the footsteps of seven homeless people who have spent years on the streets of Toronto. 2010.
Their stories not only help us understand how homelessness impacts them and the people in our communities, but it is a powerful expose of a system gone terribly wrong. Along with compelling accounts of experiences in the city, the film reveals an underlying urgency that requires us to take immediate action to address homelessness locally and across the country.
1 Ling, Trixie, from “Housing Insecurity: the Face of Poverty.” Available from www.cpj.ca/en/content/housing-insecurity-face-poverty
2 Clairmont, Susan, from “A Hand Up for Mike.” The Hamilton Spectator, July 15, 2006
3 The following quotations and categories of “houselessness” are from Homelessness: A proposal for a Global Definition and Classification, by Sabine Springer, Habitat International, Vol. 24, 2000, pp. 475-484.
4 Laird, Gordon from Shelter found at www.ccsd.ca/pubs/2007/upp/SHELTER.pdf
5 From Where’s Home, 2008
6 Hulchanski, J. David from “Homelessness in Canada” available at www.raisingtheroof.org
7 From “Time to Ensure Housing For All” available at the Citizens for Public Justice web site: www.cpj.ca
8 Hulchanski, J. David
9 Taken from the Citizens for Public Justice web site: www.cpj.ca
10 From “Time to Ensure Housing For All”