In this chapter we took you back through history to better understand homelessness and housing policy over time. As we noted throughout, the decisions made at one point in time are often in response to decisions that came before. While it may seem apparent that the solution to homelessness is to have more housing, providing that housing has not always been simple. Throughout the time periods we considered in this chapter, from the post-World War Two era up until the present day, politics have shaped the availability of affordable housing.


At the start of the chapter, we introduced you to the composite character Tish, whose access to housing and supports were directed by policy decisions made and enacted outside her control. The scenario was presented as an entry point into thinking about the complexity of housing and homelessness policies. We returned to this story at the end to demonstrate how it can help us understand the foundational concepts of being trauma-informed, person-centred, socially inclusive, and situated within the social determinants of health as critical for understanding homelessness in Canada


We then asked you to consider three questions along the way, with the guidance of leading homelessness researchers.


First¬†we asked,¬†‚ÄúWhat¬†housing¬†policy existed in the past?‚Ä̬†To understand the current homelessness crisis, it was important to begin our journey in the¬†post World¬†War Two era. During this period wartime housing was created for¬†people working in the¬†war-industry¬†and later for soldiers.¬†We learned that there was strong social infrastructure in place in the 1960s and 1970s, but that these started to wane with the recession in the 1980s. At that time the federal government began to pull back from funding social housing and in the 1990s withdrew completely, downloading the responsibility to provinces (and in Ontario, further downloading¬†to municipalities). It was in the 1980s that we began to hear about the problem of mass homelessness for the first time, coinciding with¬†the rise of neoliberal politics and great wealth inequality.


Next¬†we asked,¬†‚ÄúIs Housing First a solution to homelessness?‚Ä̬†Just as the name suggests, this approach entails¬†providing people with housing before¬†anything else. The¬†idea of housing people and moving them off the street emerged¬†alongside the homelessness crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, but Housing First was formalized as a program by Dr. Sam Tsemberis‚Äô team at Pathways to Housing in New York.¬†In Canada,¬†Housing First was¬†evaluated with the multi-site At Home / Chez Soi study¬†and has subsequently become a widely adopted policy and programmatic approach.¬†In asking whether it is a solution, we heard multiple times that while it is one solution, it¬†is not the whole solution¬†because it does not address the underlying causes of homelessness, such as¬†the¬†lack of affordable housing and adequate income supports.¬†We further considered the importance of fidelity to the original model and weighed it against the need to be flexible and adaptable to the needs of different populations.


Finally¬†we asked,¬†‚ÄúWhat is happening with housing and homelessness policy today?‚ÄĚ In this section, we¬†considered where we are now, with a look to where we might be going in the future. Namely, the 2017 National Housing Strategy, 2018 National Homelessness Strategy, and 2019 National Housing Strategy Act signalled a strong federal commitment to ending homelessness, with the declaration of housing as a human right.¬†While this is a positive step, sustained political will is needed to ensure that the¬†planning and¬†strategy translate into action.¬†The commitment to housing people and ending homelessness¬†long-term¬†will require collaboration¬†to ensure it does not fall through governmental cracks, and¬†that we see¬†the implementation of wrap-around supports like guaranteed income and¬†strengthened¬†eviction prevention measures.


To understand our current housing and homelessness landscape, it was important to take a moment and step back in time. We hope that this brief journey helped to inform your understanding of where we have come from as a country, where we are now, and where we might be going in the future.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book