As Hamilton continues to grow, change and develop over time, we must continue to ask who is included and who is excluded throughout this process?
By Greg Tedesco
Published November 19, 2013
Early last week I had the opportunity to attend an event titled, "Standing Beside Women: A Discussion and Workshop on Best Practices for Helping Women Move from Shelter to Permanent Housing". The event was presented by the Women's Housing Collaborative in partnership with the Supporting Our Sisters (SOS) Advisory Committee.
The morning included presentations from Tanya Gulliver and Emily Paradis, centred around the Housing First policy/practice, the importance of community collaboration, and women's unique experiences of homelessness, including implications for support and services in Hamilton.
Highlights included the importance of valuing 'lived experience' in research and policy development and the need to utilize a 'human rights framework' when developing affordable housing strategies and responses to homelessness, as well as promoting key values of dignity, worth and self-determination.
While at the event, I was again reminded of the power and impact of stories that individuals and communities carry with them. I feel very privileged that through my work in the community, I hear many powerful stories on a daily basis; stories of struggle, success, resilience, hope and strength.
One of the most important lessons I've learned and still remind myself regularly is to talk less, listen more and truly hear what is being said to me.
Members of the S.O.S Advisory Committee presented what was, to me, the most powerful portion of the morning, "Voices of Women with Lived Experience". During this time, women from the Advisory Committee shared their own personal experiences with homelessness.
They talked about the barriers they have and continue to face, and demonstrated the strength and support needed to create change in their lives and the lives of others. For the entire time they spoke, I was compelled to listen.
This event took place the same week a report was released by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association that looked at the wait lists for affordable housing in Ontario. Although Hamilton made some gains over previous years, the report still indicates a record 158,445 households (about 4,700 of which are in Hamilton) were still waiting for affordable housing as of December 2012.
At the same time as we are setting records for the number of households on the wait list for affordable housing, we also know that on any given night approximately 30,000 people experience homelessness across Canada.
When did the experience of homelessness and being precariously housed become a given 'norm' for so many in our society? If these statistics and the everyday stories of individuals who continue to struggle to find and maintain safe, affordable housing don't constitute a crisis and prompt a call to action, I don't know what will.
For change to occur, private and public sectors must continue to engage in this conversation and all levels of government need to be involved. What better time to continue to raise these issues than now, less than a year away from a municipal election, and seemingly always close to the potential of a provincial one.
The issues of housing and homelessness must continue to be prevalent. Have you asked your city councillor what their position is on affordable housing in the community lately? Federally, the issue must continue to be brought up as well, which is as good a time as any for a reminder that Canada remains the only G8 country without a national housing strategy.
As Hamilton continues to grow, change and develop over time, we must continue to ask who is included and who is excluded throughout this process? This isn't an easy process, although it's a necessary one if we are to create and sustain safe, inclusive environments within our city.
Renée Wetselaar, social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC), says it well: "[I]n the housing sector we worry about affordability; income is not keeping pace with what the market is saying is affordable. So we support economic development, but not at a pace where people get left behind."
This year, National Housing Day will be held on Friday, November 22. The theme for this year's National Housing Day event in Hamilton is " Building Bridges to Homes: Addressing the Housing Needs of Newcomers".
This will be another great opportunity not only to discuss, but also to listen to stories of the unique experiences of individuals and groups in communities across Hamilton, acknowledge and address the barriers and challenges they face, and find ways to support and address their housing needs.
In the meantime, I will continue to try and remind myself to talk less, listen more (aside from writing the odd RTH article here and there) and continue to support the creation and sustainability of spaces where the voices of those with lived experience are not only heard, but valued.
For a more in depth look at the unique experience of women's homelessness in Hamilton, download the Supporting Our Sisters report [PDF] and check out the How's the Weather? campaign. Be sure to click on the "videos" tab to hear the powerful messages of some of the members of Hamilton's S.O.S Advisory Committee.
It's their voice, not mine, that should be heard the loudest.
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