The first National Conference on Ending Homelessness was held in Ottawa from October 28-30. It was organized by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and its many partners. Over 650 people from Canada, the United States and England attended.
The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition was fortunate to have a number of our members at the conference and were pleased that Yukon government also had two of their senior officials there. The presentations and workshops were valuable, often moving, learning experiences.
Topics included Housing First, large scale social change, lessons learned, homelessness in the North, mental health and addictions and youth homelessness.
In the workshops, research studies were presented. Leaders outlined the success or failure of their programs addressing housing and homelessness. Men and women with lived experience shared personal stories. Administrators of plans to end homelessness talked about the challenges of developing five- and 10-year plans.
Again and again, we learned that Housing First works!
When you provide safe, secure, affordable accommodation and adequate supportive services, you establish a foundation to address issues of mental health, training and employment opportunities.
You can work towards stabilizing family relations and getting out of poverty.
It has to be said that many of the success stories are found in the bigger cities. The situation in many smaller cities and rural areas indicates there is not enough housing stock available to provide for Housing First programs. There is also the issue of inadequate supportive services in many places.
So the immediate challenge becomes building up the housing stock to be better prepared for Housing First initiatives.
The highlight of the conference had to be the speaker from England, Louise Casey. She is the Director General, Troubled Families, U.K. Department of Communities and Local Government.
Louise has also been called the Homelessness Czar! The title reflects her fierce determination to do something about housing the homeless.
She is not as impressed with strategies and plans to end homelessness, research papers and “thought showers,” her expression for brainstorming ideas, as she is with action. The background work is necessary but not the essence of her work.
Louise is all about building relationships. Her message to front-line workers, program administrators and housing advocates is never give up and housing people most in need is the right thing to do.
Louise told us about sitting next to a 15-year-old girl on the Strand in Central London. She was homeless and a drug addict.
Louise looked at her and said “I am not leaving without you. Do you hear me? I am not leaving without you.”
The girl eventually got up, struggled to get into the vehicle and then collapsed into tears, trying to release the exhaustion, stress and neglect of being on the streets.
Louise took time to thank the participants with lived experiences for sharing their comments during her talk.
She concluded her remarks by saying to them: “We are you and you are us. You must not remain invisible and together, all of us, we can move forward and end homelessness.”
Louise received a thunderous standing ovation. There she stood, fearless, leading with her heart and showing the rest of us what love looks like in public.
Bill Thomas, chair of the housing task force co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.