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Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 2)

Students have spent two days and two nights on the concrete at the University of Regina in an effort to draw attention to the experiences of members of our community who face the challenges of homelessness and extreme poverty on a daily basis. As noted yesterday, we recognize two things about this fundraiser. First, it cannot possibly recreate/represent all of the complexities associated with homelessness. Participants do not experience racism, systemic oppression, wondering if they will eat period, or even have experiences with homelessness for an amount of time that causes them to forget how to use a phone, forget what their own private bedroom feels like, and many more. Equally important to note is that there is tremendous value in this event because of the unique opportunity and profile it provides us to engage students, future and current community leaders, and the community at large in conversations about how we can implement social policy and investments (programs, grants) that will allow for us to end extreme poverty and homelessness, both achievable goals.

At Carmichael Outreach, we see the effects of Regina’s ongoing housing crunch on a daily basis. In 2011, we commenced the Carmichael Outreach Housing Support Program, and in the last six months of that calendar year, we provided support (advocacy, house hunting, budgeting, relationship building, tenancy skills) to 32 members of our community. In 2012, that number grew to 112. In 2013, we saw 267 unique individuals and families request and receive our programs supports. This past year, the program exploded, and between two coordinators, we saw 692 intakes. That means for nearly each day of the year, 2 individuals/families in our community walked in the door unable to maintain their housing because of budgetary restrictions, poor quality housing, landlord/tenant issues, racism, unethical evictions, and many other circumstances. In short, there is a growing number of folks in our city that simply cannot make housing work any longer for a variety of reasons.

We work with a wide range of people. Some people need limited support and are able to acquire the right housing quite easily. Some require some advocacy and support in their corner to get a second chance, and some are chronically homeless members of our community who have faced housing instability for as long as 18 years. Many of these folks face the additional barrier of concurrent diagnosis (a diagnosed mental illness and on-going addiction). It is in this area of housing support that we spend most of our time.

As a province, we spend exorbitant amounts of money perpetuating the instability that is a major contributing factor to the most inhumane of outcomes. The vast majority of those in our province on social assistance are termed unemployable. This designation can be an inability to work for several different reasons, but each of these individuals receives a base level of $459/month for housing. If they are able to acquire housing that meets certain quality requirements they are able to access the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement, which is from $180-220, depending on classification. Outside of the challenge of strict requirements that many rentals in our city do not meet, economically disadvantaged members of our community are forced to chase money to be able to obtain stable housing. It is our perspective that housing is a human right, and a necessary piece in the managing of mental illness and journey to sobriety. Research indicates that individuals in housing and with community supports are successful in maintaining housing over 2 years between 88-92% of the time, depending on the locale. Once an individual has maintained stable housing for 2 years, they are unlikely to ever experience homelessness again.

Rather than investing in programs that build capacity for these individuals and families, we spend around $2300/month for emergency services such as shelter, even more for beds in hospital emergency rooms, ambulatory services for individuals in crisis during cold weather, corrections costs, and beds at health region detox facilities. A simple top-up program available to individuals connected to community supports would not only reduce cost expenditures, but also improve the physical, social, emotional, and mental outcomes. Individuals having access to the dollars they need for rent ($850 average for a one bedroom apartment) is substantially cheaper than spending three times that amount on reactive services that do nothing to break the cycles associated with chronic homelessness.

On day 2 of our Five Days, Five Solutions series, we present the following solutions:

Strategic Investment in capacity building programs rooted in the principles of harm reduction such as Housing First. Individual dignity is upheld through provision of housing without requirement of sobriety or the bizarre concept of “earning” humane treatment. Individuals are afforded the geographical stability they need to journey towards their own health and stability in other key areas.

We also advocate for rental licensing, or a similar-type system that requires individuals who profit from property to maintain a standard of quality in their properties and that protects renters from certain rental increases that exploit the economically disadvantaged and further marginalizes their opportunities and physical experiences.

Housing is a human right and we must approach it as such. We are able to make strategic investments that will not only enable us to end homelessness and extreme poverty in our community, but also to build communities that are inclusive and look out for each other. Personal ownership is empowered through shared social responsibility and a community that is more than a set of geographical boundaries. Let’s leverage an event like Five Days for the Homeless into determination to end homelessness and extreme poverty in our community. Together, it is possible.

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