Towards a National Housing Strategy

The federal government has made a very strong commitment towards the creation of a National Housing Strategy. Cities such as Hamilton, Edmonton and Medicine Hat have made significant strides towards permanently reducing homelessness.

Towards continuation of that discussion, I wanted to share a recent article by Rosanne Haggerty who is President of Community Solutions and previously founded Common Ground, an organization that worked to develop affordable and supportive housing in New York.

She spoke of the trials and tribulations experienced in New York and the mistakes that they made over the past 30 years in hopes that they wouldn’t be repeated in Canada. One of her key points was that merely constructing affordable housing units would not reduce homelessness if there wasn’t a coherent housing system complete with user-friendly pathways that would connect vulnerable people to existing housing and services.

Following are four lessons learned by Ms. Haggerty and her team over the years that she strongly recommends for Canadian communities.

Simply put, housing programs should put the provision of housing as their top priority. Her findings are that homeless people don’t want elaborate programs and treatment plans; they want a safe place to live that they can afford and to be able to accept help on their own terms. Focus on housing first.

Those working to end homelessness should be working themselves out of a job. Ms. Haggerty claims that for too long governments and funding organizations have paid non-profits to deliver services whether those services successfully ended homelessness or not. This then created an incentive to maintain existing programs and jobs rather than succeed in what should be the end goal. She recommends that funders renegotiate their contracts with the providers.

She recommends a coordinated effort by all shelters, service providers and outreach teams to identify every person experiencing homelessness by name, assess and document their specific needs and follow them all the way through them gaining housing. By knowing exactly what each person needs, resources aren’t wasted and those requiring more, receive more.

These by-name lists then become multi-agency command centres. In that there are so many well-meaning agencies working on this worthwhile project, necessary items sometimes fall between the cracks or are duplicated. Aligning these groups towards a shared, time-bound goal will create progress.

Ms. Haggerty acknowledges that more affordable housing is needed but that new housing alone won’t end homelessness. Her goal in a Homelessness Partnering Strategy is for communities to coordinate existing resources into accountable, well-designed local housing systems that work for everyone.

She is confident that one day other countries will be looking to Canada for leadership and inspiration in their goal to end homelessness.