Contributed by Stephanie Gauthier
“It just makes sense.”
That’s how Tim Richter summarizes his call to end homelessness. He is the founder and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) and a national leader in the effort to end homelessness. For him, the path to solving homelessness lies through the Housing First approach.
“Housing First is truth in advertising,” said Richter. “It’s saying ‘let’s move someone directly from the street or a shelter into a home, with no preconditions. This approach is more humane, and it’s also more effective.”
Under the Housing First approach, stable housing is the first step in the journey away from homelessness, not the last. Health, substance use, mental health, and other issues are addressed from that solid foundation of housing. Another is the fundamental recognition of humanity that’s built into the approach.
“This is a model that puts people back in the driver’s seat of their own lives,” said Richter. “As long as we’re pathologizing people, looking at what’s wrong with them and what needs to be fixed, we’re never going to solve the problem.”
This is where stigma becomes a barrier because it leads us to the opposite view. Stigma encourages us to doubt an individual’s abilities and to limit their freedom and independence, rather than providing opportunities for them to take control of their lives. Solving homelessness takes a leap of faith, a willingness to see the possibility in someone despite their current circumstances.
“Stigma is about othering people,” added Richter. “It’s about treating people as different or flawed, and looking at homelessness as though it’s that person’s fault and not a systemic issue.”
Ending homelessness is a daunting undertaking. Richter has no illusions about that, but he stays positive by focusing on the thousands of little successes that happen every day. Moncton, New Brunswick has reduced chronic homelessness by 10 percent, for example. Other communities have ended veteran homelessness. Richter said that there are two main arguments for ending homelessness.
“The first is the moral argument and it says no one in Canada should die for the lack of a home, that no one should suffer needlessly. The other argument is a practical one. We’ve proven time and time again that it’s cheaper to give a person a home than it is to have them bouncing aimlessly through expensive public systems, like jail, hospitals, the police, the courts - and meanwhile, they just keep getting sicker.”
The Homeless Hub estimates homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 billion per year and calls for relatively modest spending increases to address the issue. The 7 Cities Initiative in Alberta, which housed 23,000 people between 2008 and 2018, saved an estimated $2.4 billion in provincial expenditures.
Richter is right. Solving homelessness makes sense. We have an approach that’s been proven effective and we can all contribute by questioning our own views about homelessness and the people who experience it.
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