Poverty and Homelessness: a community challenge requires a community solution

In my current role, as City Councillor and past role as a Community Organizer, I have always been inspired by the inner-city street life and compelled to work with vulnerable populations. I met Adoulfus (pictured below) while working with the Bissell Centre. He is one of the most memorable individuals I have met--kind, creative, and artistic. 

 Photo Credit: Pieter de Vos Jr.

Poverty and Homelessness:

This week, I had the opportunity to speak at the South Edmonton Business Association (SEBA) luncheon, addressing some of our city’s toughest challenges: poverty and homelessness. Within our City, there are more than 100,000 people living in poverty and 30,000 of those are children. Of those living in poverty, 1,752 of them are homeless, though many have suggested these numbers are even higher.

There are important actions we can take as a community I highlighted three of those when speaking to SEBA this week.

1. Celebrating the people who are the homeless. As more and more homeless move into south Edmonton, how do we understand who they are and how do celebrate them as people. One of the most profound lessons for me working with homeless Edmontonians earlier in my career is learning they are often very talented individuals with entrepreneurial and artistic ability. How do we engage them in a way that treats them like human beings?

2. Rethink the south Edmonton service structure. Businesses and existing social agencies admit there is a gap in services and service space so local businesses become the default space for people seeking some place to be and to be safe.

3. South Edmonton needs more permanent supportive housing. We need to begin a conversation in earnest with South Edmonton communities and their leaders to determine how and where more necessary permanent supportive housing can be built.

Homelessness is usually the result of the cumulative impact of a number of factors, rather than a single cause. Poverty is a result of several factors, such as: Economic and societal factors - resulting from a lack of adequate income, access to affordable housing, or health care resources; System failures - where mainstream care and support systems fail them; Individual and relational issues - stemming from a job loss, family break-up or domestic violence, mental health and addictions challenges.  

In fact, many of those living in poverty are one illness, one accident, or one paycheque away from living on the streets.

Which is why, ending poverty will take more than just individuals. It requires collaborative leadership from all sectors, organizations, and communities--to find solutions.  So, how do we solve this issue?

Well, a community challenge requires a community solution. We need to find solutions, to ensure Edmontonians have access to jobs, training, housing and the other things they need for success. Just think of the benefits to the economy and the foundation of our city if those living in poverty were able to participate more fully in the social and economic life of our city.

End Poverty Edmonton:

The truth is we cannot end homelessness without ending poverty. The City of Edmonton is dedicated to ending poverty within a generation. Our End Poverty Edmonton strategy challenges us to lift 10,000 people out of poverty by the year 2021. Meeting this goal will require a multi-faceted approach, one focused on providing livable incomes, developing affordable housing, providing accessible transit, child care, and mental health services, and eliminating race-based discrimination.

But at some point, if we really want to address this issue, we need to tackle the more complex cases--the chronically hard-to-house, those people whose needs and circumstances are more complex and require layers of resources and care for success. And delivering those services will require more from us, both in terms of funding and our own understanding and compassion. This stuff isn’t always comfortable, but addressing these issues is necessary for us to move forward in dealing with poverty and homelessness as a community.

At Monday’s City Council, and in conjunction with the work underway through End Poverty Edmonton initiative, administration provided a report on Addressing the Hard-to-House Homeless Population. The report highlighted that in order to end homeless, we need to redouble our efforts for the benefit of the hard-to-house population. And as I mentioned earlier, the solution requires a collaborative approach from all levels of government, organizations, and communities--to create adequate supportive housing options. Administration will return March 13, to provide Council with an update on the 10-year plan to present to community partners and the province.

As a citizen, everyone can be part of addressing poverty and homelessness. You can contact your municipal, provincial and federal representatives to ask them to support more funding and resources for housing and other poverty reduction projects. You can get involved with local non-profits like Homeward Trust, the Bissell Centre Mustard Seed, Habitat for Humanity, or the Find--these organizations are making a difference on a large scale in our city and always need a hand from volunteers or donors.