Fresh approaches needed to address homelessness

Greetings!  I’m Nico Trimoff, manager of transcription and accessibility services at
Today, my selection of articles focuses on a very chronic and concerning issue of the day; homelessness in our society and this article really brings home the message to the reader.
I invite you now to read on.
Enjoy your day.

Fresh approaches needed to address homelessness; Society needs to stop
stereotyping, and start taking concrete action
Robert Roach
Edmonton Journal , Oct. 7, 2009
It’s at the tail end of a recession that its human impact is felt most
acutely –jobs are scarce, emergency savings and credit dry up, charities
are stretched to the limit and hardship grips many Canadians. This reminds
us that recessions are not just about GDP and stock prices — they are about
human beings, many of whom are in dire straits.
The human face of economic cycles points to another social issue that is
often dehumanized: Canadians who find themselves on the street. Some are
runaways who have fled abusive homes, some are suffering from mental
illness, heartache or addiction and some are families who just couldn’t make
ends meet. Every person you see Dumpster diving, asleep in a park, lining up
for food in a church basement or forced into the sex trade has a story worth
Despite this, there is no more marginalized group of citizens in Canada.
They are the forgotten, the nameless and, worse, a problem to be solved. For
every smile from a passerby, every dollar given to support a shelter and
every nonprofit staffer working late to help the homeless, there are a dozen
looks of disgust, a dozen complaints about wasting tax dollars and a dozen
calls for crackdowns to “clean up” the streets.
As a society, we are much more concerned about how white our teeth are than
figuring out how to repair holes in the social safety net. This is not
because Canadians are heartless people, but because of two mistaken
assumptions: Everything is being taken care of by someone else, and people
in the street deserve to be there.
We don’t want to see the holes in the safety net because this would mean
that we would have to give something up to mend them. However, social
justice is not free.
We don’t really want to hear stories that end with people on the street
because they would melt our hearts and force us to abandon the stereotypes
that define people on the street as lazy screw-ups who don’t want to work.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone on the street and you will have a very
different perspective.
This does not mean that everyone on the street is an angel in disguise who
just needs a chance. Such idealism does not get us far because the reality
is more complicated. You don’t reverse the effects of abuse, mental illness,
addiction, low self-esteem and poverty with a sandwich, a hug or job
sweeping up out back.
So what can we do? As a new Canada West Foundation report shows, a lot. The
many people and organizations dedicated to serving those who find themselves
on the street have learned a great deal over the years about what works and
what doesn’t.
In addition to dumping the two assumptions noted above, four approaches
emerge as promising practices.
The first is harm reduction, which tries to reduce self-harm activities
without requiring the cessation of that activity. Common examples of harm
reduction include needle-exchange programs, medical prescriptions for heroin
and methadone treatment.
The second is housing first, which focuses on providing stable housing as a
prerequisite to assisting individuals who live on the streets. Housing-first
programs move individuals into stable and healthy housing directly from
their situation on the streets or in shelters. The newly housed resident is
then offered a range of support services such as mental health, income
support or addictions services.
The third is community justice. Rather than simply sending an offender to
jail, this approach demands that both legal counsel and judges examine the
circumstances underlying a specific crime, how these underlying causes might
be addressed, how reparation can be made to the victim and community, and
how a reintegration of the offender into the community can be successfully
The fourth approach is community ownership. This is more than the practice
of community consultation and including a broad range of professionals,
service providers, businesses and government representatives in planning
solutions to social challenges.
Rather, it reflects the fact that community participation requires a
commitment to putting clients at the centre of planning, their full
participation in decision-making and their ability to make choices regarding
their own lives.
These approaches are not pie-in-the-sky idealism; they are difficult to
execute and their effects are not immediate. They also require reclassifying
people on the streets as citizens, rather than continuing to see them as
problems or pretending that they don’t exist at all.
Robert Roach is director of the
West in Canada Project at Canada West Foundation. A copy of “Community
Solutions: Promising Practices and Principles for Addressing Street Level
Social Issues” by Dr. Jackie D. Sieppert can be downloaded from the Canada
West website (
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About Donna Jodhan

Donna Jodhan is an award winning blind author, advocate, sight loss coach, blogger, podcast commentator, and accessibility specialist.
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