The 2019 federal general election has begun and the stakes for people experiencing homelessness are high. Modern mass homelessness in Canada began as a direct result of federal policy decisions and federal leadership will be key to ending it. Recent successes prove we can move federal policy in the right direction if we engage in political and policy making processes. Let’s use the opportunity of this election to press candidates and all parties for clear commitments on affordable housing investment and ending homelessness.
By Tim Richter, President & CEO
Politics can seem so distant from our daily realities and elections a mind-numbing blur of campaign signs, promises, attack ads and talking heads. But for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness the stakes are very high and the impact of elections on them is very real. Modern mass homelessness in Canada was created by federal policy decisions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These decisions had life altering consequences for millions of Canadians and lethal consequences for untold numbers of others. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Policy decisions can create, compound or solve homelessness. We have to engage in the political process and policy making if we want to end homelessness. We can have influence on these decisions.
In 2006 a federal Conservative minority government implemented a $1.4 billion housing trust fund investment (developed in a deal between the Liberals and NDP in the previous minority government) and later (after a second minority election win) introduced a $2 billion social housing investment as part of an economic stimulus package. With a majority government Prime Minister Harper introduced Point in Time Counts, renewed the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and made Housing First federal policy.
In 2015, the election of the Trudeau government saw the introduction of a 10-year, $55 billion-dollar National Housing Strategy including the promise of 100,000 new units of affordable housing, a doubling of homelessness funding through a new 10-year federal homelessness strategy (that committed to cut chronic homelessness in half), the repair of over 300,000 units of social housing, a new Canada Housing Benefit and a legislated right to housing.
All of these policy measures and investments involved, or were the direct result of, advocacy from the homelessness and housing sector.
Election 2019 presents an opportunity to build on these recent successes and to press candidates and all parties for clear commitments on affordable housing investment and ending homelessness.
What we’re doing.
Our key messages for election 2019 are these:
An estimated 235,000 different Canadians will experience homelessness this year at an estimated economic cost of $7 billion per year. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Eliminating homelessness is an achievable goal. Communities across Canada are already having success in preventing and reducing homelessness. Edmonton, Alberta has reduced homelessness 43 percent since 2009 and just reduced chronic homelessness an additional 15 percent; Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County, Ontario reduced chronic homelessness over 50 percent; Guelph Wellington, Ontario reduced chronic homelessness by 24 percent in just seven months and Chatham Kent reduced chronic homelessness 37 in six months.
We are calling on all parties to commit to the elimination of homelessness in Canada by 2030 through federal leadership including the expansion of Reaching Home and increased and targeted capital investment in affordable and supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.
To get these messages to all parties we’ve worked with our peers to release an open letter calling for all parties to address housing and homelessness in election 2019.
We’ve also worked with our peers to send a survey to all parties to seek their positions and platforms on housing and homelessness. We’ll collect their responses and publicise the results. Throughout the campaign we’ll also be reacting to party commitments on mainstream and social media and exploring other opportunities with our partners to advance ending homelessness.
We need you!
The federal general election isn’t one election, it’s really 338 different elections taking place in constituencies across the country. Candidates will be busy working for your vote and paying careful attention to what you and voters like you are saying. If candidates hear that ending homelessness matters, ending homelessness becomes an important issue for them. Here are some ways you can engage in the political process and make sure ending homelessness is on the agenda.
Attend (or organize!) an all candidates forum. These are great opportunities to raise your concerns, spark a debate and build public awareness and support for ending homelessness. These don’t have to be huge events – they can be a gathering of a few dozen people at a Legion, a shelter or a community centre.
Write a guest column in your local paper talking about the urgent need for affordable housing in your community, highlighting your successes, talking about homelessness as an achievable goal (citing some our Bright Spots can help!) and calling on candidates and parties to commit to ending homelessness.
Make news! Have good news to share? Made progress in reducing homelessness? Have a program achieving notable success? Have an important housing or homelessness issue to highlight? Organizing a campaign event? The mainstream media can be a great vehicle for communicating with the public, candidates and parties about housing and homelessness. Reach out to the local media through press releases, pitches or media events to create local news.
Invite candidates to meet people who are or were homeless. Candidates need to hear the voice of lived experience. Many candidates won’t have ever met a person who is or has been homeless. Creating a personal connection to lived experience will make the issue real for the candidate, help them understand the need and the solutions. People with lived experience are powerful and effective advocates!
Invite candidates to meet groups of voters concerned about housing. Host a coffee party for your friends and neighbours or hold a meet and greet for your staff, Board, donors and clients.
Meet with local candidates one on one to share your work and information on homelessness. Ask questions about their views on homelessness and affordable housing issues. Offer to be a resource for them during the campaign and after.
Send all candidates a survey on housing and homelessness issues in your community. This will get the local candidates and their parties thinking about the issue. Tabulate the survey and publicise the results to help your neighbours decide how they should vote to support ending homelessness.
Write letters in support of ending homelessness and the need for more affordable housing in your community to local candidates.
Use social media to share information on homelessness (successes, needs and general information) and call on all parties to commit to ending homelessness. TIP: Be sure to use election hashtags (like #CanadaVotes #Election2019 #cdnpoli) and use photo cards tagging local candidates.
VOTE! And encourage your friends, colleagues, Board members, staff and clients all vote as well. This will be a close election and many ridings will be won or lost by small margins. Every vote counts. Check out the Elections Canada website for everything you need to vote.
Access to safe and affordable housing is a top of mind issue for Canadians in the 2019 election. Recent public opinion polls have demonstrated that housing affordability is amongst the top issues of concern for voters, particularly amongst younger and millennial voters.
Political parties are listening. Let’s make sure they hear from us.