On June 6th, 2018, our organization sent the feedback we collected from our community forum which was attended by women who have been greatly impacted by our City’s housing crisis. Many women continue to share with us that lack of safe, affordable housing is a main barrier to leaving violence. Housing is a human right and it can be the difference between life and death. We are hopeful that the expertise of those with lived experience will be valued and their contributions will inform the National Housing Strategy. You can read their reflections below and learn more about the National Housing Strategy at https://www.placetocallhome.ca/
Human Rights-Based Approach to Housing: Feedback
Our organization is Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke. Our mission is to provide a safe refuge, counselling, support and advocacy for women and their children who are fleeing violence; while also working towards a more equal society where the inherent value of all women is recognized and celebrated. We serve approximately 900 women and their dependents annually through our outreach centre and emergency shelter. The vast majority of the women we work with live in poverty and experience precarious housing or homelessness.
The reflections of three women with lived experience and our services participated in conversations for the summary in this report. These participants are passionate, vocal advocates for change in accessibility to affordable, sustainable and adequate housing which includes supportive, transitional, emergency and shelter housing.
We strongly support the federal government’s commitment to creating an encompassing human rights based National Housing Strategy. It is commendable. In particular, the dedication of 25 percent funding and supporting programs being allocated to housing women and girls is of significance to our organization’s work in supporting and empowering women and their families. We wholeheartedly endorse the principle of transparency.
However, the consensus from our knowledgeable contributors was that the National Housing Strategy falls short in the areas of accountability, transparency, benchmarks and the inclusion of lived experience. The following captures the insightful reoccurring themes from the conversations.
The women questioned, expressed concern and asserted a need for accountability throughout all facets of the implementation. One participant stated “There needs to be follow through after decisions are made. Did the decision work for the individual? If not, then the decision needs amending.” This would include, but not be solely limited to the Office of the Housing Advocate, Adjudication Panel and the National Housing Council. Another proclaimed “The government would be duty-bound and must be held culpable in ensuring that all housing right are enforced legally or otherwise. The government must set the example in assuring that all actions on housing rights are positively implemented. It must do what it says it will do.” In addition, came the comment “The new legislation should be able to grant autonomous power to accountability bodies in relation to the governance of the strategy with provision for timely review of the implementation of strategies.”
In line with the need for accountability, transparency was cited as a requirement in the following response: “…there should be transparency at every levels of government in conceptualizing, planning and providing funding and implementing objectives aimed at achieving the highest standard of housing rights and benefits.” Another participant simply said “Promote, encourage and instill transparency throughout all processes.”
One group member expressed “…a nice report but benchmarks are missing…reports will be provided every 3 years…but I think that every year would be better, even if it’s a much shorter report with numbers only, rather than verbose discussions.” Another opinion was “I think the report needs specific performance benchmarks, budget and details on how they plan to achieve the targets and reliever some of the demand pressure on our rental market.”
Including, actively recruiting, adequate positioning and compensating the expertise of those with lived in experience is essential. Acceptance and inclusion is critical in the housing strategy. One of our participants asserted “People with lived experience must be included in the Office of the Housing Advocate and have full consultative authority.” A community member stated a more balanced ratio of consultants and staff in all offices involved is critical.
We enthusiastically support the legislative framework items proposed win “Implementing the Human Right to Housing in Canada’s National Housing Strategy” paper by Emily Paradis and Bruce Porter. The framework items garnered the following responses:
The participants strongly agree the legislation must affirm the right to adequate housing as defined by international law with comments such as “…the physiological need of human beings for housing i.e. shelter from the elements, on a continuous basis should be among the first order of business of any government, especially in countries like Canada where the disastrous effect of the four seasons are severely manifested.”, and “The NHS must also be adaptable i.e. flexible, easily modified with changing situations…The first element of an adequate housing strategy must therefore to bring housing as close as possible to where people live and work but that is not the case in Canada…The wide variance between demand and supply must be remedied immediately.”
As mentioned above in the section on benchmarks, the participants approve benchmarks, goals, timelines and clear responsibilities for all levels of government.
The participants feel the mandates should synergistically have authority, clearly state issues and squarely address solutions to the problem of insufficient, inadequate, excessively priced and therefore unsustainable housing. One group member voiced “If homeless, children, dependents, vulnerable community member’s timeline should be priority.” Another stated “I do have a concern that the focus is rights based, not solutions based.”
Thank you for the opportunity of capturing and showcasing the comments, opinions, ideas and feedback of the women we serve in our community who are directly affected and challenged in obtaining, securing and sustaining adequate housing and shelter for themselves and their families. We stand alongside our fellow Canadians, newcomers and those seeking refuge and maintain our commitment to leverage our position in this integral role. The undertaking that is crucial to human existence: adequate housing for all Canadians regardless of race, sex, gender, religion, socio-economic status or disability. We look forward to participating in each of the upcoming phases and witnessing eventual realization of this monumental strategy.
Signed by Julia Fiddes, Shelter Program Manager
On the behalf of the women who volunteered to participate is this forum.